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Tue, 07.21.1818

Charles Reason, Mathematician born

Charles L. Reason

*Charles L. Reason was born on this date in 1818. He was a Black mathematician, abolitionist, and teacher.

Charles Lewis Reason was from New York City.  His parents, Michael, and Elizabeth Reason were West Indies immigrants. Early in his life, he attended the African Free School with his brothers Elmer and Patrick.  He was an excellent student in mathematics and became an instructor in 1832 at the school at age fourteen, receiving a salary of $25 a year.  He used some money to hire tutors and later entered the ministry.  Reason was rejected by the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York City for this career because of his race.   He resigned in protest from St. Philip's Church (the congregation sponsored his application).  He then studied at McGrawville College in McGraw, New York.

Reason helped draft a call to the first New York State Convention of Negroes in 1840 and advocated a manual-labor school to provide training in the industrial arts for blacks.  After this, he created a normal (teaching) school to answer the charge that Black teachers were inefficient and incompetent. His pursuit of a career in education was strongly based on his belief that it was the best means for Black advancement.  Reason was also a writer. He contributed verse to the Colored American in the 1830s and led New York City's Phoenix Society in the 1840s. He wrote the poem "Freedom," which celebrated abolitionist Thomas Clarkson and was published in Alexander Crummell's 1849 biography of Clarkson.

Reason was also active politically throughout his life. He was committed to the antislavery cause and to the improvement of Black civil rights. In 1837 Reason, Henry Highland Garnet, and George Downing launched a petition drive supporting full Black suffrage.  He was also secretary of the 1840 New York State Convention for Negro Suffrage. Reason founded and was executive secretary of the New York Political Improvement Association, which won fugitive slaves the right to a jury trial.  In 1841 he lobbied successfully for the abolition of the sojourner law, which permitted slave owners to visit the state briefly with their slaves.  He also lectured on behalf of the Fugitive Aid Society.

In 1847 Reason and Charles B. Ray founded the “Society for the Promotion of Education among Colored Children,” a Black organization authorized by the state legislature to oversee Black schools in New York City.  Reason also served as superintendent of P.S. 2 in 1848, and in 1849 he became the first Black to hold a professorship at a predominantly white American college. This accomplishment occurred when he was hired as a Greek, Latin, and French professor and adjunct mathematics at New York Central College in McGrawville, New York.

In 1849 Reason, and J. W. C. Pennington, and Frederick Douglass, sponsored a mass demonstration against colonization at Shiloh Presbyterian Church in New York City. At the meeting, Reason quoted a former American Colonization Society agent in Africa, who claimed that the president and secretary of the society's colony of Liberia had business dealings with European slave traders on the African coast.  In 1852, he became the first principal of Philadelphia's Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University of PA), where he stayed until 1856. Reason returned to New York City for thirty-seven continuous years as a teacher and administrator in their city schools. In 1856, he was appointed Principal of School No.6 in New York.

He was an active reporter on education to the Black National Convention movement of the 1850s; he was secretary of their 1853 convention in Rochester, New York. He spoke out against the American Colonization Society and Garnet's African Civilization Society.

During the American Civil War, Reason served on New York City's Citizen's Civil Rights Committee, which lobbied the New York legislature for expanded Black Civil Rights.  After the war, he was vice president of the New York State Labor Union.   In 1873 he headed the successful movement to outlaw segregation in New York schools.  In 1882 teachers, superintendents, and principals of the New York City school system honored him for fifty years of service. In 1887, he became chairman of the Committee on Grammar School Work of the Teacher's Association.

Charles Reason was married and widowed three times; only the identity of his third wife, Clarice Esteve, is known.  He died in New York City in 1893.

To become a High School Teacher
To Become a mathematician or statistician


Cheyney University archives have some of Reason's letters.
Anthony R. Mayo, "Charles Lewis Reason,"
Negro History Bulletin 5 (June 1942): 212-15.

C. Peter Ripley et al., eds.,
The Black Abolitionist Papers
(5 vols., 1985-1992)

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