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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 II: Sunshine


← 120 | 121 →

Part II Sunshine

I am aware that the job of helping people to realize to the fullest acumen the capacities which God has given them is one which perhaps as few others draws upon one’s spiritual reserve and upon his whole self. …Although I am young in the social work profession, I think that I can say without the least equivocation that [this] is one which perhaps of all professions of its type has its origin in the Judeo-Christian religion, which stresses social justice, charity, love of one’s fellow man, not seeking one’s own, not being easily provoked, being kind, and long-suffering. All of these qualities might be summed up in the term “acceptance”—acceptance of people where they are and helping them to move on to where they, God, and their fellow men want that they should go. The business of accepting people requires a spirit and a quality of a person whose soul is steeped in the wellsprings of faith and belief in a God who is Love. These are some of the ideas which I know accepting this noble calling requires of me, and I pray God to make me equal to it.—Mildred Pratt, 19551 ← 121 | 122 →


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A New Beginning


Mildred attended Jarvis Christian College, Butler University, and the University of Indiana during the late 1940s and early 1950s. She reflects upon her college...

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