CHARLES L. REASON
(1818 – 1893)
O Freedom! we loud praises give,
That on Thine altar in the sea,
For us Thy hallowed fires live.
O! grant! unto our parent home,
Thy constant presence and Thy shield!
That when again rude hirelings come,
Though starr’d from every battle field,
The spirit of the patriot true,
Toussaint, the “man of men,” may ring
-Excerpt from Reason’s poem “Freedom”
Charles L. Reason was the first African American to teach at a predominantly white college. He was born in New York City to Michel and Elizabeth Reason, free people of color whose surname was originally Rison. His parents were immigrants from Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue, respectively, and they came to the United States as refugees in 1793, during the Haitian Revolution.
The math prodigy began his teaching career at the age of 14. In 1832, he became an instructor at the New York African Free School. By 1849, Reason became the first African American to hold a professorship at a predominantly white American college when he was hired as professor of Greek, Latin, and French, and adjunct professor of mathematics at the integrated New York Central College in New York. By the time he resigned in 1892, Reason held the longest tenure in the school system.
Reason was a prominent abolitionist. During the Civil War, he served on New York City’s Citizen’s Civil Rights Committee, which lobbied the state legislature for expansion of civil rights for Black residents. After the war, he was vice president of the New York State Labor Union. He also played a leading role in the fight to end racial segregation in the city’s public schools, and was a prominent figure in the effort to gain voting rights for African Americans.