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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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Chapter Ten: Black History Project


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Black History Project


I wish to coin the term “threeness” to describe the sense in which to truly be human, one must be connected to the past, the present, and future. One must know those past experiences of generations which were noble and those which were base. Both help us to survive in the present and enable us to leave a legacy for the future.—Mildred Pratt, January 14, 19891

Dear Friends, I am writing to each of you with a request that you start searching for and saving anything that has to do with your family. We are fast losing our history because we do not think of or recognize the value of our possessions or artifacts. There are those small things that we think have no value, but they are historical and a part of our Black Heritage. Our older family members are dying out—those who could tell us a story or give us a picture or documents. We go through attics and dresser drawers and throw away many a paper without as much as a glance at it. Younger members consider some of these objects, manuscripts, photographs, and reminiscences of no use, but these mementos should be evaluated and preserved by the McLean County Historical Society. Please consider donating items that all may see and appreciate them and know that they are a part of our Black History.—Kathryn P. Dean, Acquisitions...

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