William Henry “Bill” Binga until last weekend was resting in an unmarked grave for over 60 years. Now, that is no longer the case.
Binga (1869-1950) played professional baseball when he and players like him were banned solely because of their skin color. As a result, he played barnstorm ball throughout the Upper Midwest and on teams based in Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit.
He also played on the Minneapolis Keystones (1908) and the St. Paul Colored Gophers (1909-11) – the latter as a teammate with Bobby Marshall, the first Black all-American athlete at the University of Minnesota. He eventually became a longtime resident of Willmar, Minnesota.
“Why didn’t I, or why didn’t [others] know about him?” Minnesota Twins Diversity Marketing Director Miguel Ramos asked himself about Binga, who last Saturday was memorialized in a brief ceremony at Crystal Lake Cemetery, with a brand new headstone to formally mark his resting place, 64 years after his interment.
“William Binga played until he was 60 years old,” proclaimed Peter Gorton, whose Donaldson Network, with the Twins and the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project (NLBGMP), organized the event.
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According to Hour Detroit Magazine, Binga’s genealogy includes an escapee from slavery in Kentucky via the Underground Railroad. Some continued on to Canada, while others, such as Jesse Binga, who became “one of the first successful, self-made Black bankers in the country,” settled in Detroit.
William Binga was born there in 1869 to Joshua and Lucy Binga. According to census records, he and his family later moved to Howell, Michigan and lived in an otherwise all-White neighborhood.
Right: Bill Binga’s new gravesite maker
What later brought Bill to Minnesota was his “slick-fielding jack-of-all-positions” ability – a high average fielder and a solid batsman whose batting average stayed between .250 and .300 and above, and who didn’t start playing ball until he was 30 years old, says Todd Peterson, who wrote Early Black Baseball in Minnesota.
Gorton said that the search to find Binga’s unmarked burial place began in 2008.
“The thing about the Negro League and Black baseball…who deserves it more? I’m not into [ignoring] that,” he said. “William Binga was here right over there for 65 years. We have to do these things and do it properly…to prove that these guys were great. [It] has to be done with the respect that I believe [is appropriate].”
“It makes me weep to think that after he passed, he wasn’t honored,” admitted Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce President Lea Hargett. “Whether the family could afford the marker or not, he played in the [Negro] League, and his life should have mattered. To not have a marker is very, very sad to me. But today we are able to witness the correction to all of that.”
“I’m really proud of Miguel and the Twins for taking the initiative” to honor Binga, said North Community YMCA Executive Director Henry Crosby.
“It is our responsibility to bring [Binga and other Black players] back from wherever they are and bring them back to life so that more kids can understand this,” said Ramos.
Local Black baseball historian Frank White told the MSR that there is another Black baseball player buried in a St. Paul cemetery. “Bill Binga certainly deserves a grave stone for sure. Phil Reed has an unmarked grave. I will be working with Peter, and probably the Twins and Todd, and that is going to be the next one [to be recognized], and that will probably come next year.”
“It’s important to take care of that story,” concluded Gorton, “so history can learn that these guys were great. [Binga] is part of our story.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.