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

Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America

Series:

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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Chapter Eight: Pittsburgh and the PhD

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← 148 | 149 →

CHAPTER EIGHT

Pittsburgh and the PhD

 

Pittsburgh was the sunshine in Mildred’s life from 1962 to 1969. It was where she met her husband, Theodore Pratt, in 1964; where she had her two children in 1966 and 1967; and where she received her doctorate degree in 1969 from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. Pittsburgh was also a place very much reflective of the segregation, separation, and discrimination in America. Because Mildred had a master’s degree, she held a faculty/instructor position in the School of Social Work. Thus, Pittsburgh was the start of her journey into the academy as a faculty member. At the University of Pittsburgh, Mildred continued to fight racism, sexism, discrimination, and segregation, including engaging in activism in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. As she stated in a letter relating to the role of race in public health matters involving her son, “Today it is no secret that questions are being raised daily about Negroes being denied their civil rights…in other words, being discriminated against glaringly or subtly.”1

Marriage

Mildred shares her love story of meeting her husband, Theodore Pratt, in Pittsburgh from A Tribute to Love2: ← 149 | 150 →

One morning in August 1964, I crossed Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh to take clothes to the cleaners. I was in a hurry to get to work at the University of Pittsburgh...

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