Binga is the definitive full-length biography of Jesse Binga, the first black banker in Chicago. One of ten children in a Detroit family, Binga arrived in Chicago in 1892 in his late twenties with virtually nothing. Through his wits and resourcefulness, he rose to wealth and influence as a realtor, and in 1908 he founded the Binga Bank, the first black-owned bank in Chicago. But his fall was equally precipitous. Binga recounts this gripping story about race, history, politics, and finance in Chicago.
Chicago’s Black Belt was a sliver of land several miles long and a half mile wide on the city’s South Side. Created by segregation, it was a city within a city and its growth can be traced through the arc of Binga’s career. He preached and embodied an American gospel of self-help and accrued wealth while expanding housing options and business opportunities for blacks.
But his success came at the price of a vicious backlash. After Binga moved his family into a white neighborhood in 1917, his house was bombed six times, his offices were attacked twice, and he became a lightning rod for the worst race riots in Chicago history (1919). He persevered, but, starting with the stock market crash of October 1929, a string of reversals cost Binga his bank, his property, and his fortune. Convicted of embezzlement, he served three years in a maximum-security penitentiary and suffered what was likely a nervous breakdown. After prison, Chicago’s first black millionaire banker ended his career as a parish janitor on the city’s South Side.
A quintessentially Chicago story, Binga tells the story of racial change in one of the most segregated cities in America. Binga illuminates how an extraordinary Chicagoan embued a community isolated by racial animosity with hope.
"There is arguably no better icon of Chicago history that deserves such a dramatic and gripping treatment than Jesse Binga." —Davarian L. Baldwin, author of Chicago's New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life