Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History was an African American man named Jesse Binga who ended up founding the first privately black-owned bank in the northern USA – Binga Bank – in the midst of vicious white attacks against him, his home and business because of his prosperity.
Jesse Binga was the son of father and barbershop owner William Binga and mother Adelphia (Adoelphe) Binga. He was born on April 10, 1865 in Detroit, Michigan, and ended up working as a teenager in his father’s barbershop. He dropped out of school and eventually moved to Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, working odd jobs, becoming a entrepreneur by selling food and more in his own street side business, and even learning a bit about real estate and buying land.
After getting to Chicago, it was in the 1890s that he started a real estate business called J.C. Binga & Co., but before that, he married his first wife on April 14, 1885. Her name was Frances Scott, and they had a son. The marriage lasted for a short while, but then they divorced.
Binga continued earning money, buying inexpensive, run down properties, renovating them to house a population of African Americans who were moving from the South. Because he was able to buy so much property, white people moved out of the area and were beginning to get frustrated that black people were not only moving in, but it was a black man who was making it possible.
It was 1908 when he opened the first black-owned, private bank in the North – Binga Bank. (There were already black-owned banks in the South such as The Penny Savings Bank)
In 1910, he owned his own home at the age of 45, and as a roommate he had a man by the name of WM Riley who worked with him as a real estate agent, according to the census.
Soon, he was able to buy another brand new home and marry again to 2nd wife Eudora Johnson in 1912, an entrepreneur who inherited $200,000 from her deceased brother who was known as the gambling king of the area- John “Mushmouth” Johnson. She was the daughter of salon keeper and property owner John Johnson and mother Ellen.
The home they purchased was in an all white neighborhood, and it made the neighbors nervous and angry because Binga was black and wealthy. From there, he and his wife along with their properties began to be threatened in the worst possible ways. Their status was in the upper class of society, so much so, that they even had a maid by the name of Hattie Williams, according to the 1920 census when they lived on South Park Avenue.
In 1921, Binga founded the first black-owned state chartered Binga State Bank, and he catered to only black people because white people mistreated and excluded them at their banks, which means they couldn’t build wealth via the white owned financial institutions. This was a niche that Jesse Binga took over.
Although this was a happy time, it was also a dangerous time because his house was bombed six times from white racists who blamed him for the massive move in of black people in the area. His business was even bombed twice.
From the book written by Don Hayner, BINGA: The Rise and Fall of Chicago’s First Black Banker, one can understand the types of attacks levied on Binga and his businesses as he was one of the most despised black men in Chicago by white people.
Below is an excerpt from the book.
Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)17 Nov 2019BY DON HAYNER
COURTESY OF CAROLYN LOUISE DENT-JOHNSON
Chicago banker Jesse Binga’s house after a bomb exploded on his front porch. This photo isn’t dated but likely was from either the summer of 1920 or 1921 — Binga’s house was bombed and damaged both of those summers.
Jesse Binga came to Chicago in 1892 to work as a street peddler and rose to become a millionaire realtor and banker, the city’s first black banker. He also became a symbol of aspiration, self-reliance and uplift in Chicago’s “Black Belt.”
Binga’s story is the story of the South Side as seen through the eyes of one very ambitious man. It is also the story of the beginning of segregation in Chicago. As a landlord and banker, Binga was not beloved. But he was supremely respected — not just for his financial discipline but also because he fearlessly attacked the color line of discrimination that walled off the “Black Belt” from surrounding white neighborhoods.
For all of this, he became a target. His house was bombed six times, his business twice. And he became a lightning rod for the deadliest race riots in Chicago history. The riots began on a hot Sunday, July 27, 1919, when whites attacked blacks for crossing an invisible color line at the 29th Street beach, and a black teen drowned after a white man threw stones at him from a breakwater. Blacks fought back. Intermittent rioting spread through the city for a week.
♦♦♦ When the riot was over, the terrible total came to 38 killed, 537 injured and about 1,000 left homeless. Of the dead, 15 were white, and 23 were black. Of the injured, 178 were white, and 342 were black; the race of the remaining 17 was not recorded. That’s how Chicago counted: by color.
Several days later, Jesse Binga received a handwritten letter in the mail. It came from the “Headquarters of the White Hands.” It read: “You are the one who helped cause this riot by encouraging Negroes to move into good white neighborhoods and you know the results of your work. This trouble has only begun and we advise you to use your influence to get Negroes to move out of these neighborhoods to Black Belt where they belong and in conclusion we advise you to get off South Park Ave. yourself. Just take this as a warning. You know what comes next.”
♦♦♦ On Nov. 12, 1919, an automobile rolled in front of Jesse Binga’s real estate office at 4724 State Street, and a bomb was tossed out the window. Its explosion blew out windows, splintered wood and sent contracts and title documents flying. By the time police arrived, the car was gone. Binga’s home was next. On Dec. 3, a “passerby” near Binga’s house at 5922 South Park Ave. heard a “plop” and saw smoke rising from under the front porch. Firefighters were called, and a bomb was found sizzling harmlessly beneath the front steps. It didn’t explode; it just charred the steps.
Jesse and Eudora Binga were rattled, but it didn’t stop them from celebrating their favorite holiday a couple of weeks later. They might not have realized it at the time, but their Christmas party celebration of 1919 would become their signature annual holiday tradition, called the Christmas Twilight Party. It would also be the hottest party ticket in the Black Belt. The Bingas’ first Christmas Twilight Party was held at the spacious, black-owned New Vincennes Hotel at 36th Street and Vincennes Avenue. The music, provided by Elgar’s orchestra, which was hidden behind palms and ferns in the hotel’s palatial ballroom, had a calming effect on the nerves of the guests and the Bingas, now in their 50s. The orchestra made “the music float out in the dreamy soulful way that causes even the old to forget their age and the youthful to become more gay, if possible,” according to a Broad Ax newspaper story on the party.
The Bingas rented the hotel’s reception rooms, parlors and dining room and filled them with holiday flowers and wreaths of holly fashioned in the letter B. Party favors were standard at the Christmas Twilight Party, where women would be given gifts of headbands trimmed in silver or glittering bracelets with tiny, silver bells. Men sometimes were given a bow of white chrysanthemums or a black cane decorated with silver trim and tied in red ribbon. Everyone was in formal attire, with Eudora elegantly “gowned” in black iridescent over satin with diamond ornaments.
New book by former Sun-Times editor tells story of South Side as seen through the eyes of one very ambitious man — and the start of segregation in Chicago
IT WASN’T JUST THE COLOR OF BINGA’S SKIN THAT DREW THE ATTENTION OF THE BOMBERS. IT WAS BINGA HIMSELF. HE HAD BECOME A SYMBOL OF RACIAL CHANGE, THE GENERAL LEADING THE BLACK “INVASION.”
The first Christmas Twilight Party was in honor of Mr. and Mrs. James Cole, who were visiting the Bingas from Detroit, where Jesse was born. Both couples were in the receiving line, as was Eudora’s beloved “little sister” Cecelia Johnson Mozee, now a widow of several years. And no party could be a party of Chicago’s black elite without the popular master of ceremonies Julius Avendorph, journalist and bon vivant. Chicago Defender editor Robert Abbott was there with his wife, as were cosmetics manufacturer Anthony Overton and funeral director Charles Jackson, who in a few weeks would become vice president of Binga’s bank. Medical student Henry Binga Dismond and his wife Gerri made stylish turns on the dance floor, as did many of the several hundred in attendance. The crowd was the who’s-who of the Black Belt elite. Half a dozen doctors and their wives were in attendance, including Dr. Ulysses
Grant Dailey, who sharpened his surgical skills under the legendary Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. Also there was Eudora’s nephew, poet and author Fenton Johnson. Fenton had published several books of poetry and founded the Champion Magazine in 1916 in connection with Renaissance man Dismond, also a budding poet.
The “younger set enjoyed the pretty new dances and their graceful ways of doing them was a pleasure to onlookers,” the Broad Ax reported. Dinner was served in the hotel’s “pretty little tea room.”
The Broad Ax story made no mention of the bombings but referenced the struggles of life and perhaps hinted at what the Bingas faced when it stated, “It was truly a lovely gathering in one of the most beautiful spots that could have been selected in this city . . . . Too much cannot be said of this pretty Xmas party and Mr. and Mrs. Binga will long live in the hearts of their friends for it is large hearted, Broad-minded people that hold the old world of ours on a level and keep us feeling that it is not such a bad place to be after all,” according to the Broad Ax. The last song played at the Bingas’ Christmas party was “Home Sweet Home.” Two days later, Binga’s house was bombed again.
On the night of Dec. 27, a bomb was thrown onto the front steps of the Bingas’ house — his was the only black family on the block. This one didn’t just sizzle, it exploded, shaking the windows and damaging the large, white, wraparound front porch. An eyewitness, Arthur Curtiss, a Chicago Tribune Linotype operator, said he was positive the bomb thrower was a white man. Curtiss said he was “driving by the Binga residence in his twin six when he saw an auto dash up to the curb. A young man wearing a soft hat pulled down over his face jumped out, ran to the porch, tossed a package on it and scooted by to the car.” The driver of the car, also white, kept the engine running and stepped on the gas when the bomb thrower jumped back in the car. Curtiss was unable to get a good look at the car, and there were no taillights to illuminate the license plate number.
It wasn’t just the color of Binga’s skin that drew the attention of the bombers. It was Binga himself. He had become a symbol of racial change, the general leading the black “invasion.” For months, Jesse and Eudora had been receiving threats, some by phone, others by mail. The message was clear and blunt: Get Out.
Jesse Binga had become the most hated man in Chicago — at least in white Chicago.
♦♦♦ From July 1, 1917, to March 1, 1921, a black-occupied residence in Chicago was bombed every 23 days. There were 58 bombings in that span, and while most left only property damage, two people were killed, including a 6-year-old girl who was catapulted out of her bed by one blast and slammed into a ceiling.
Binga’s business and home were hit eight or nine times, including the bombing of his house in the late summer of 1921. Other properties he leased or sold were also bombed, and Binga was routinely threatened.
Certainly many bombs were set at the properties of white and other black realtors, including the home of Chicago’s first black alderman, Oscar De Priest. But no one in Chicago was targeted more than Jesse Binga.
The Binga State Bank was very successful until the Great Depression. Binga continued on with his ventures, however, because people everywhere were being hit hard financially because of the stock market tumble, many were not able to pay their debts to him or rent. Not only could they not pay Binga, Jesse Binga couldn’t pay the state what he owned for the bank. This led to the bank’s foreclosure in the 1930s.
See photos with a click below:
- Real Estate Company
- Binga Bank
- His home post terror attack from white racists post bombing
- Jesse Binga, the man
- Real Estate Property
- Controversial Arrest
Afterwards, he was arrested and charged with embezzlement. Some would charge the authorities were attempting to find anything illegal on him because of who he was and the ill-will they had toward the man who changed the lives of multiple black people, so much so, that even white people blamed him for their own angry riots.
He ended up spending time in prison, approximately ten years, and during that time, his wife passed away before he was released from a paralytic stroke in 1933.
Upon his release from prison, he worked a common job, no where near earning the money he did as an entrepreneur. In 1940, he was living as a lodger in the home of a woman named Ida Laws and her adult daughter. He passed away on June 13, 1950 and buried in the same cemetery where his wife lay – Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.
Year: 1930; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Page: 21A; Enumeration District: 0195; FHL microfilm: 2340157
Year: 1880; Census Place: Detroit, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: 612; Page: 318D; Enumeration District: 284
Year: 1920; Census Place: Chicago, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_310; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 370
Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Year: 1940; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: m-t0627-00930; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 103-319
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 05 October 2020), memorial page for Jesse C. Binga (10 Apr 1865–13 Jun 1950), Find a Grave Memorial no. 98760439, citing Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by C. Rae White (contributor 47946084) .