Riots to Renaissance: Binga's bank and real estate

Binga's bank and real estate

A group of store-front apartments owned by Jesse Binga, real estate investor and banker, located on State Street between 47th and 48th streets. (Source: Chicago Defender Archives)

Jesse Binga arrived in Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair and stayed in the city to build his fortune among Chicago's growing black population. In 1898, with $10 as capital, Binga started a real estate business by leasing run-down buildings, making necessary improvements, or subdividing the property, and then renting the properties at a higher rate. Within 10 years, Binga had developed a large and profitable enterprise.

Discrimination in lending provided the inspiration for Binga's greatest vision: Chicago's first black-owned bank. In 1908, Binga established a private institution he named the Binga Bank. It was an immediate success and helped to plow the financial ground for the development of Bronzeville. In 1921, the private bank was reorganized as the Binga State Bank under the protection of a state charter.

Binga's financial holdings made him a national figure in black business, but his wealth and notoriety didn't protect him when he bought a home in an exclusively white neighborhood. The property was bombed five times, however Binga refused to be intimidated or forced out by violence. With the same force of will, in 1929 he built the impressive Binga Arcade at 35th and State. The five-story building housed the bank, extensive office space, and shops, along with a rooftop dance floor and established the area as the premier business center in Bronzeville.

With the Great Depression, Binga's grand empire came to an end. State examiners closed the bank in 1930. The next year, Binga was convicted of financial irregularities and given a 10-year sentence. The shuttering of Binga's bank and his subsequent incarceration was a blow to racial pride in the community. Still, in 1938, the famous attorney Clarence Darrow appealed for Binga's release, and 10,000 community members signed a petition in support of giving the former banker his freedom.

Jesse Binga was paroled to the custody of a Catholic priest in Bronzeville. He worked menial and other jobs until his death in 1950.