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Don Hayner presents Binga: The Rise & Fall of Chicago’s First Black Banker

November 12, 2020 @ 7:00 pm8:00 pm

Retired editor-in-chief of the Chicago Sun-Times Don Hayner discusses his definitive biography on Jesse Binga, Chicago’s first Black banker.

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.

DON HAYNER is the retired editor-in-chief of the Chicago Sun-Times. During his tenure as managing editor and editor, the Sun-Times was awarded multiple national and local awards for investigative reporting and breaking news, including the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting in 2011. Hayner is the co-author, with Tom McNamee, of Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names, The Metro Chicago Almanac: Fascinating Facts and Offbeat Offerings about the Windy City, and The Stadium: 1929–1994, The Official Commemorative History of the Chicago Stadium. Hayner is a graduate of Ripon College and John Marshall Law School.

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