Charles Lewis Reason was the first African-American professor to teach at a predominately white college. Professor Reason was a proponent of Booker T. Washington’s ideal that industrial education was a means for Black liberation, but he also believed that classical education was just as necessary.
Reason was born July 21, 1818 in New York City to parents who immigrated from Haiti. A math child prodigy, Reason began teaching at the African Free School in New York at the age of 14 and saved his $25 yearly salary in order to pay tutors to continue his own education.
In 1847, Reason founded the Society for the Promotion of Education among Colored Children with abolitionist and journalist, Charles Bennett Ray. Two years later, Reason was named a professor at the Free Mission College, now known as New York Central College, in Courtland County. The school began admitting Black students and Reason taught a series of subjects including Greek, Latin, and French but also served as an adjunct mathematics professor.
Reason left the college after three years and became principal at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. While there, he increased the student body and maintained the school’s status as one of the best for Black students in the country. After three years at the Institute, Reason returned to New York and became one of the leading voices for racial integration in the city’s schools in 1873.
Along with education, Reason was an integral part of the abolitionist movement and remained a staunch champion of racial equality. He continued working up until five months before his death in August of 1893.