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.
"Hayner’s well-researched, well-balanced Binga highlights not only the life of the banker, but the South Side in which he made—and lost—his fortune. What’s clear from this book is how, for better or worse, Binga was his own man. This is what led [W. E. B.] Du Bois to praise him so highly as 'outspoken . . . self-assertive . . . (a man who) could not be bluffed or frightened . . . (and) did not bend his neck nor kow-tow when he spoke to white men." —The Chicago Tribune
"With Binga, Hayner has done readers and aficionados of Black and Chicago history an excellent service by painting a complete picture of a man who strove to create his own empire. In that light, the book captures how Black enterprise in America was deferred but can be reclaimed—a lesson sorely needed in this time of pandemic and protest." —Christopher A. Smith, Cleveland Review of Books
"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
"Don Hayner’s Binga: The Rise and Fall of Chicago’s First Black Banker brings into focus the black belt in its heyday. Hayner’s writing is a vibrant mix of scholarship and storytelling." —L.D. Barnes, Newcity
". . . a book peppered with Hayner's sharp reporter's instincts . . . His book does Binga proud, filling out the portrait of this fascinating and driven man. There will always remain mysteries surrounding him . . . but the Binga who pops from these pages is unforgettable." —Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune
"Binga is a book that makes clear that, for better and worse, the banker-real estate dealer was his own man." —Patrick T. Reardon, Third Coast Review