Dabney was born in Richmond, Virginia, several months after the end of the American Civil War to former slaves John and Elizabeth Dabney. His father had experience as a cook and bartender, and ran a catering business after the Civil War.
Wendell Dabney was a talented musician and graduated from Richmond High School in the first integrated graduation ceremony at Richmond High School. He then went to Oberlin College. He worked as a waiter and teacher before moving to Boston where he opened a music studio. He taught in Richmond schools from 1886 until 1892.
Dabney traveled to Cincinnati in 1894 and met Nellie Foster Jackson, a widow who had two sons, in Indiana. They married in 1897 and settled in Cincinnati where he opened a music studio, became involved in politics, was city paymaster, became the first president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and started the Ohio Enterprise newspaper in 1902. It eventually became The Union which he published until 1952, the year of his death.
He wrote several books and pamphlets including one about leading African Americans in Cincinnati, a biography of his close friend Maggie L. Walker (the first woman to charter a bank in the U.S.), and published a collection of his newspaper writings. Walker hired Dabney to write her biography. He also composed songs.
He objected to laws restricting marriage between African Americans and whites.
The Dabney Building was at 420 McAllister Street.
- Dabney's Complete Method of Guitar
- The Wolf and the Lamb (1913), a pamphlet published in response to proposed legislation in Ohio to ban miscegenation.
- Maggie L. Walker: The Woman and Her Work (1920)
- Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens (1926)
- Chisum’s Pilgrimage and Others, a collection of articles he wrote at The Union
- "You Will Miss the Colored Soldier; My Old Sweetheart"
- "God, Our Father, a Prayer"
- "Wendell P. Dabney | African American Resources | Cincinnati History Library and Archives". library.cincymuseum.org.
- "Wendell P. Dabney: Renaissance man and pioneer of the Black press". amsterdamnews.com.
- "ohiohistory.org / The African American Experience in Ohio, 1850-1920 /". dbs.ohiohistory.org.
- Mather, Frank Lincoln (May 17, 1915). "Who's who of the Colored Race: A General Biographical Dictionary of Men and Women of African Descent" – via Google Books.
- Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site https://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/maggie_walker/exb/.../MAWA99-621.html
- Mitchell, Michele (May 17, 2004). "Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny After Reconstruction". Univ of North Carolina Press – via Google Books.
- "Our history: Book a trove of city's African-American history". Cincinnati.com.