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A Black Woman's Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor

Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America


Menah Pratt-Clarke

A Black Woman's Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor:  Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America traces the journey and transformation of Mildred Sirls, a young Black girl in rural east Texas in the 1930s who picked cotton to help her family survive, to Dr. Mildred Pratt, Professor Emerita of Social Work, who, by lifting as she climbed, influenced hundreds of students and empowered a community.

As a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and scholar-activist, Mildred lived her core beliefs: she felt that it was important to validate individual human dignity; she recognized the power of determination and discipline as keys to success; and she had a commitment to empowering and serving others for the greater good of society. Such values not only characterized the life that she led, they are exemplified by the legacy she left. A Black Woman's Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor reflects those core values. It celebrates ordinary lives and individuals; it demonstrates the value of hard work; and it illustrates the motto of the National Association of Colored Women, “lifting as we climb.” 

A Black Woman's Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor can be used for courses in history, ethnic studies, African-American studies, English, literature, sociology, social work, and women’s studies. It will be of interest to sociologists, anthropologists, historians, political economists, philosophers, social justice advocates, humanists, humanitarians, faith-based activists, and philanthropists.

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Part I: Sunrise


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Part I Sunrise

The sound of silence breaking is harsh, resonant, soft, battering, small, chaotic, furious, terrified, triumphant.—Janet Miller1

The very act of writing, especially for people who do not occupy positions of status and privilege in the general society, is a bold and courageous enterprise.—Jacqueline Royster2 ← xxiii | xxiv →

← xxiv | 1 →





In this introduction, Stephanie Shaw, Professor, Department of History, Ohio State University, a long-time colleague and friend of Mildred Pratt’s, contextualizes the historical significance of the work and highlights issues of race, migration, gender, class, segregation, and discrimination in America. Her discussion of the historical context is followed by a discussion of the personal context by the biographer, Menah Pratt-Clarke (Mildred’s daughter). An overview of each chapter is also provided.

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