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Jesse Binga: The Making of the First Black-Owned Bank on the South Side of Chicago

2075
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Binga State Bank and Jesse Binga
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Banking pioneer Jesse Binga (April 10, 1865 – June 13, 1950) became one of the wealthiest Black entrepreneurs on the South Side of Chicago in the early 1900s. He made millions in Chicago’s real estate scene, and then made history as the first black person to charter a privately-owned bank in Chicago.

The beginning of Binga’s empire

Jesse Binga arrived in Chicago in the 1890s while in his late-twenties. According to news sources, the Detroit native only had $10 in his pocket (adjusted for inflation in 2023, this amount equates to roughly $326), but the lessons learned from his family gave him a blueprint for success.

As a teenager, Binga worked with his father, William W. Binga, as a barber. His mother, Adelphia Binga, taught him the real estate business by taking him with her to handle administrative tasks for the family properties.

In 1902, Binga launched a real estate business on the south side of Chicago at 3333 South State Street. He bought dilapidated spaces and turned them into suitable rental properties.

Binga’s timing was impeccable. As more blacks migrated to Chicago to escape the harsh conditions in the southern states, Binga was able to increase his portfolio of tenants by renting out space to them.

Changing the complexion of Chicago’s South Side

Jesse Binga’s real estate company provided housing opportunities for Black people in predominantly white neighborhoods, but not everyone supported his efforts.

His tactics were often labeled as “blockbusting,” which involved convincing white residents to sell their homes at below-market prices and reselling the homes to Black people. However, some white residents became unhappy with this and decided to relocate to other communities.

As white residents sold property below the market value, more Black residents were eager to buy — even at inflated housing prices.

Three years later, Binga leased the Bates Apartment Building at 3635 and 3637 S. State. When White tenants discovered that Binga had possession of the building, they began moving out.

Jesse Binga faced additional obstacles beyond blockbusting. In particular, Black individuals in Chicago’s South Side encountered challenges in obtaining loans from white banks to finance their home purchases.

Despite the challenges, Binga persisted in his mission to break down housing segregation in Chicago,

From real estate entrepreneur to Chicago’s top black banker

Binga’s astute observations from his real estate dealings, coupled with a unique opportunity in the marketplace, created the ideal conditions for him to build a banking empire.

During the Panic of 1907, a six-week period that severely damaged the financial system, many depositors withdrew their money from banks, causing widespread bank failures across the country. After the collapse of Chicago’s white-owned McCarthy Bank on 35th & State, Binga seized the opportunity and acquired the bank building.

In 1908, he launched the Binga Bank, Chicago’s first black-owned bank, which saw a deposit of over $200,000 on its opening day.

Source: The Broad Ax, Volume 15, Number 13, 1 January 1910 

At the Negro National Business Men’s League conference in Louisville, Ky in August 1909, Booker T. Washington hailed Binga as the “the most progressive and successful Afro-American banker and real estate broker in this country.”

Source: The Broad Ax, Volume 15, Number 13, 1 January 1910 

Breaking barriers in Chicago’s banking industry

In 1921, Binga State Bank became the first black-owned state chartered bank in Chicago.

The Broad Ax, a local black-owned publication at the time, covered the grand opening.

As Chicago’s first Black-owned bank, Binga State Bank was able to provide access to capital and financial services to Black people living on the South Side. It also provided opportunities for upward mobility in a community that had historically faced significant barriers to economic success.

The bank was an engine for community development. It became a source of pride for many Black Chicagoans and contributed to the evolution of Chicago as a “Black Business Mecca.”

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