Edward J. Cabbell

Edward J. Cabbell at Concord College, Athens, W. Va. Collection Number: A&M 217. Identifier: 038004. Image courtesy of West Virginia and Regional History Center, WVU Libraries

African American, History, Cultural Activism, Literature

Edward J. Cabbell


Ed Cabbell was a historian and folklorist of the traditions of Black Appalachia (Affrilachia) and brought the stories and history of African Americans in this region into prominence.

Edward J. Cabbell was born in 1946 in Eureka Hollow, a small coal camp in McDowell County, West Virginia, to a family who had lived in the mountains since the early 19th century. An honors graduate of Kimball High School (1964), he earned a BA in Education/Social studies (1969) at Concord College in Athens, West Virginia. He joined the faculty to teach history and directed Concord’s Upward Bound programs (1969-1975). While there in 1973, he established the John Henry Memorial Foundation, which produced a blues record and a photographic exhibit among its projects, instituted the John Henry Award to recognize individuals working to ensure minority inclusion, and founded and directed an annual festival celebrating West Virginia’s African American folk hero, John Henry. In 1978, he conceptualized and began publishing a magazine, Black Diamonds, in which he promoted the history and heritage of Black Appalachian people. 

Cabbell enrolled in the first graduate cohort in Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University and became the first African American graduate to earn an MA in Appalachian Studies (1981). He collaborated with William H. Turner to coedit the groundbreaking volume, Blacks in Appalachia (1985). This volume investigated aspects of the history and culture of the more than a century of African American life in this geographic region. 

After this, Cabell began but did not complete doctoral studies at West Virginia University.  Instead, he devoted his time to his activist work, educating and programming cultural programs, pageants, camps, and conferences on Black history and culture for his region, nationally and internationally. Leading the Neighborhood Improvement Association, he provided support for his community as a social worker. Over his more than 25 years of college teaching, he taught history at Fairmont State College, West Virginia Wesleyan College, and Appalachian State University. In addition, he was a published poet, and a recognized shape note, gospel, and blues singer. In 2005, Cabbell moved to Rome, Georgia, to be near his family, remaining there until his death. 

Among his publications of interest to folklorists:

William H. Turner and Edward J. Cabbell, eds. Blacks in Appalachia (1985)

Phyllis M. May-Machunda

(coming soon)