The letter below, penned by Henry Binga Dismond (known as Binga) is sent to his bride Geraldyn, while engaging in trench warfare on the front line during WWI. The couple had married just before Binga embarked to France. This letter also appears as a Chicago Defender article, “Bursting Shells Rain Around Lieut. Dismond” on 8/24/1918. He enters service as a Sargent in Company H of the Second Battalion in the Old 8th Illinois (370th Infantry). In January of 1918 he’s promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, confirming his leadership capability in a few notable battle engagements. Binga’s also featured with Sam Ransom in an earlier Chicago Defender article, “Chicago Boys Raid German Trenches” on 7/13/1918. The article describes their leadership on a patrol that captures a German entrenchment and being the first combat company to bring the 370th Infantry colors to the battlefields of France. Later he receives an honorable mention for bravery and is promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
H. Binga Dismond is born in Richmond, Virginia on December 27, 1891. His parents, Dr. Samuel Henry Dismond and Jessie Cornelia Binga-Dismond and baby brother Harold all die before his 7th birthday. Binga recounts the situation in a 1917 interview.
“My father, Dr. S. H. Dismond, a practicing physician died, when I was but six years old. Six weeks later my mother followed. In another two weeks the death of my younger brother left me quite alone, to be reared by my grandfather, the Rev. Anthony Binga, who for the past forty five years has been pastor of a South Richmond Baptist Church.” (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1/29/1917, p. 4)
Binga is raised by his maternal grandparents, Reverend Anthony Binga Jr. D.D. and wife Rebecca L. Bush-Binga. The young athlete attends Richmond Public Schools, Virginia Union University and Howard University Academy, in 1908. A very disciplined youth, Binga describes how his running career began on the streets of Richmond.
“Strange to say, the much censored dime novel interested me in athletics. I was a great admirer of Frank Meriwell, the mystical Yale hero and his feats, which I read in a secluded place in the cellar, instilled into me a love for athletic accomplishments. When I was but 10, with my boy pal, I would rise with the dawn and run a mile and a half each morning, he upon my grandfather’s mare and I afoot.” (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1/29/1917, p. 4)
Upon his first appearance at the 1911 Smart Set Athletic Club games in New York, Dismond takes the point trophy and two more loving cups for the 220 and quarter mile events. Later, he holds the anchor position for Brooklyn’s Laughlin Lyceum relay team. In 1913, his elder cousin Jesse Binga invites Dismond to South-side Chicago for the purpose of financing his medical school education. As a student at the University of Chicago, he quickly emerges as the first African-American college track sensation in the US. Dismond goes on to graduate from Rush Medical School (Northwestern University) and the completion of his medical residency at Chicago’s Provident Hospital. Shortly after receiving medical certification, Binga and Geraldyn establish themselves in New York City where he later becomes a Harlem Hospital physician. During the 1920’s and early 30’s the Dismond’s are Harlem Renaissance socialites, attending social functions at A’lelia Walker’s Dark Tower and other Harlem hot spots.
Old 8th Illinois Infantry Photos Courtesy of History of the American Negro in the Great World War.
©2009, C. Rae White
NOTE: H. Binga Dismond is a cousin from the Binga branch of my family. Read a more in-depth article about H. Binga Dismond here.