The Remarkable Story of Charles L. Reason: The First Black College Professor in the United States

Charles Lewis Reason, an American mathematician, linguist, and educator, was the first black college professor in the United States. He taught at New York Central College in McGrawville.

The Remarkable Story of Charles L. Reason: The First Black College Professor in the United States

Charles Reason was born on July 21, 1818, in New York City. He was one of three sons born to parents who had immigrated as refugees in 1793, shortly after the early years of the Haitian Revolution.

Recognizing the significance of education, Charles’ parents enrolled him and his brothers at the African Free School in New York City, which catered to the children of slaves and free people of color. Demonstrating remarkable aptitude in mathematics, Charles commenced teaching the subject at a tender age of fourteen.

Charles also attended the short-lived Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire, which was destroyed in 1835 for admitting black students.

His next documented appearance occurred in 1847, when he co-founded the Society for the Promotion of Education among Coloured Children in New York with Charles Bennett Ray.

Charles L. Reason

By 1849, Reason’s journey led him to New York Central College, where he was appointed professor of belles-lettres, Greek, Latin, and French, while also serving as an adjunct professor of mathematics.

Central College was an institution founded by members of the American Baptist Free Mission Society in McGraw, New York and was the first college to integrate from its opening day, selecting Reason as the most qualified applicant. Thus, Reason became both the first Black professor and the first Black teacher with white students in the United States.

The College began activities on September 4, 1849. and professor Charles L. Reason delivered an inaugural address, on the topic “Harmony of the Principles of the College with Man’s True Destiny and the Tendencies of the Present Age.” It was described in the press as “full of clear comprehensive, philosophical thought, clothed in a neat and classical dress.”

Renowned for his intellect and charisma, Reason garnered admiration from students and citizens alike during his time at New York Central College. His influence extended beyond the confines of the classroom, inspiring a new generation of scholars and advocates for social change.

In 1852, Reason’s commitment to education took him to Philadelphia, where he assumed the role of principal at the Quaker Institute for Colored Youth. Under his leadership, the institute witnessed a surge in enrollment, reflecting his unwavering dedication to expanding educational opportunities for African American students.

Returning to New York, Reason continued his crusade for justice and equality as a prominent figure in public education. His advocacy efforts, coupled with his administrative prowess, played a pivotal role in advancing the cause of civil rights and educational reform.

Limited documentation exists regarding Reason’s personal life, although records indicate he was married and widowed three times. Following two strokes, he experienced a recovery period that necessitated commuting to work in a carriage due to difficulty walking.

On May 16, 1893, five months after retirement, Charles Lewis Reason passed away in his New York City home.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Join Our Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter today and start exploring the vibrant world of African history and culture!

Just In

Arthur St. Clair: The Black Minister Lynched for Presiding Over a Mixed-Race Marriage in 1877

Arthur W. St. Clair was an African-American leader whose life was tragically cut short in 1877. His crime? Presiding...

More Articles Like This