Charles Lewis Reason was a mathematics child prodigy. He later became came an educator and civil rights activist. Born on July 21, 1818, in New York City, Reason began teaching at the age of fourteen at the African Free School. He later went on to further his own studies at McGrawville College.
In 1847, he co-founded the Society for the Promotion of Education among Colored Children, an organization authorized by the state legislature to oversee Black schools in New York City. Reason was appointed professor of fine writing, French, and Greek, mathematics at New York Central College in 1849. He left the position in 1852 to become principal of the Quaker Institute for Colored Youth, a post he held until 1855. Later that year, he returned to New York City where he served as a teacher and administrator in the public school system until his retirement in 1892. Reason was committed to the antislavery cause and worked for improvements in Black civil rights.
Reason also founded the New York Political Improvement Association which won the right for a jury trial for previously enslaved fugitives in the state. He headed the successful 1873 effort to outlaw segregation in New York schools. Reason was also a poet. His most noted poems are “Freedom” “The Spirit Voice” and “Silent Thoughts.” He contributed to the Colored American in the 1830s and was a leader of New York City’s Phoenix Society in the 1840s. Reason died in New York City in 1893.
Around, how joyful in the chilly air
Sweet sounds are floating! While above, the sky,
Peopled with visions bright, seems calm and fair
As infant smiling ‘neath a mother’s eye.
It is the chant of joy that fresh, sincere,
Springs up from youthful hearts! Yet louder from that
The souls of men, to greet the laughing year
That clothed in promise, from afar doth come,
Burdened with hope and gift unfold. ‘Tis well
The tortured feelings and the sad should rise
To hail some vision’d good, and tuneful swell
With songs of fairy scenes that in the skies
Are forming; of the peace and glorious fame,
And wealth and pleasure in the distance strewn.
But all must learn that song and garnished dream
May end; that magic spells around them thrown
Will melt in air; that sweet thoughts, redolent
As spring-time buds may droop and faint and die;
That wish and vision bright are impotent
To clothe the mind with light; to fit the eye,
To guide the spirit’s growth; to lead it on
To triumph in the world; to gain a wreath
Of praise enduring, as those souls have won,
Whose works do raise them from contempt and death.
‘Tis thought alone, creative fervent thought!
Earnest in life, and in its purpose bent
To uphold truth and right, that rich is fraught
With songs unceasing, and with gleamings sent
Of sure things coming from a brighter world.
‘Tis thought alone; girt round with quickening light,
With vision lofty, and with wing unfurled
Ready to soar, self-poised, when darkest night
Of power and of death descends, that can,
As days flit by, and years grow old apace,
Rejoice o’er bright scenes fled, and strengthened stand
More glorious things, singing with youthful face.
-Charles Lewis Reason