This wooden frame story-and-a-half slant roof row house built in 1882 was known as “Binga Row.” This transitory housing was created primarily for emancipated slaves migrating into the Northern United States and Canada. The 7 unit tenement was located on the southwest corner of Hastings and Ohio Streets in Detroit, MI. This and another tenement on the north side of Ohio near Hastings was owned by my 3rd great-grandfather William W. Binga, a black barber.
“Blacks owned at least some of the rental housing. The Binga Row…was no different from the other story and a half row houses that were common on the near east side. Originally owned by Negro barber, William Binga the small row of houses fronting for ninety-five feet on Hastings Street exemplified what Detroiters referred to as tenements.” Before the Ghetto, David M. Katzman, 1975, p. 76
The tenements were constructed, managed and maintained under the supervision of his spouse Adelphia Binga, a mid-wife, herb doctor and entrepreneur. In the Wonders by Women article she states,
‘”I used to own a good deal of property. I owned and rented houses (in Detroit & Windsor, CA).” St. Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12
The “Binga Row” tenements were one of few housing options available to former slaves, due to racial prejudice and restrictive ordinances dictating where blacks resided in most cities, including Detroit. Many tenants were typically too poor to pay rent, buy food and afford other necessities. Expressing concern for the impoverished families living in her “Binga Row” tenements Adelphia states,
“It does seem so hard to take the rent from poor people when you know their children are starving…One day I collected $10 rent from a woman, when her little girl came up to me and said: ‘Does Amy have bread?’ ‘Why of course Amy has bread, I replied.’ (Amy was my girl.) ‘Well’, said the little one, ‘I wish I could get a piece of Amy’s bread.’ ‘For the love of God.’ I said, ‘have you no bread?’ Then I went to the cupboard and found they had absolutely nothing to eat in the house. So I said to the woman, ‘Here is a dollar; go and get some bread.'” Wonders by Women, St. Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12
A 1927 Crisis Magazine article illuminates Adelphia’s charitable spirit and son Jesse’s adoption of the same,
“Few men give as much to charity as he (Jesse Binga) does. This spirit of charity which is paramount in his character is another trait that he inherited from his mother (Adelphia)…..in Detroit she built tenement flats of 3 and 4 rooms each known in those days as “Binga Row”. She was never known to dispossess a poor family in winter and when it came to her knowledge that a family was in need of food, she always had her son Jesse deliver them provisions.” Jesse Binga: The Story of a Life, Inez V. Cantey, Crisis Magazine, 12/1927, p. 352
It’s good to know that Adelphia was as concerned about her tenants well-being, as she was about making money. The Detroit City Directory indicates that some “Binga Row” units were also occupied by white laborers during the 1870’s and 80’s; Adelphia also rented rooms and flats to Binga family members. In 1885, the Ohio Street “Binga Row” tenement was gifted to my 3rd great grand-uncle Jesse Binga. He promptly sold it before embarking on an 8 year journey through the western United States.
The above “Binga Row” photo was taken some time between 1888 and 1892 when the tenement had fallen into disrepair, as the Binga’s had moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1887, selling the tenement three years later.
“In 1891 a syndicate of upper-class Negroes, headed by Dr. Levi H. Johnson, bought the dilapidated Binga Row. The investors hinted at plans to tear down the houses and exploit the site’s commercial value, but the tenement row remained unchanged.” Before the Ghetto, David M. Katzman, 1975, p. 77
The photo below shows how the “Binga Row” tenement location looks today, Hastings Street is now I-75/Frontage Rd. and Ohio Street is now Mack Avenue.
©2011, C. Rae White