Wendell Phillips Dabney served as the first African American city paymaster in Cincinnati and was the first African American president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
Dabney was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1865 the son of former slaves. Unlike most former slaves who continued to work on the plantations for low pay, Dabney’s father had the necessary training and reputation as a cook and bartender to allow him to open his own catering business after the Civil War and earn a higher standard of living for his family.
After high school, Dabney attended Oberlin College, where he was one of only fifteen black students. Although Dabney was an exemplary student, he abandoned his studies to support his family. For the next several years, he worked in Virginia as a waiter and then as a teacher.
By 1894, Dabney arrived in Cincinnati to settle business regarding property willed to his mother. He planned to stay in the city for a few months but ended up making Cincinnati his home. He met Nellie Foster Jackson, a widow with two sons, whom he eventually married in 1897. Dabney improved the property left to his mother and established a music studio. He began teaching music to many prominent Cincinnati families and eventually became involved in politics.
Dabney understood the importance to address the needs of the Black community in the press. His first paper was called the Ohio Enterprise. On Feb. 13, 1907, he launched the Union. Its motto was: “For no people can become great without being united, for in union there is strength.” For the next 45 years, the Union would be the strongest and most influential voice for Cincinnati’s Black community.
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