Charles L. Reason was born July 21, 1818 in New York City to West Indies immigrants Michael and Elizabeth Reason. Charles attended the African Free School along with his brothers Elmer and Patrick An excellent student in mathematics, Reason became an instructor in 1832 at the school at age fourteen receiving a salary of $25 a year. Reason aided in drafting a call to the first New York State Convention of Negroes in 1840 and advocated in New York City a manual-labor school to provide training in the industrial arts. He created a normal teaching school as a remedy to the charge that black teachers were inefficient and incompetent and decided to pursue a career in teaching.
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 served as superintendent of P.S. 2 in 1848. The school became a rigorous refutation of the calumnies of John C. Calhoun about the potentials of free blacks. In 1954 Reason wrote that a black industrial college would prepare free blacks, who were shut out of the "workshops of the country,".
Reason became the first African American to hold a professorship at a predominantly white American college when he was hired as professor of belles lettres, Greek, Latin, and French and adjunct professor of mathematics at the integrated New York Central College in McGrawville (Cortland County), New York only to resign in 1852 in order to become the first principal of Philadelphia's Institute for Colored Youth. In 1852 Reason left Central College and became the principal of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia which is now Cheyney State University), and where Edward Bouchet taught 25 years later). Reason expanded the enrollment from six students in 1852 to 118 students in 1855, improved the library, and made the school a forum for distinguished visiting speakers. Reason died in 1983.