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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 Twelve: Travel, Trials, and Triumph


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Travel, Trials, and Triumph


“Escapade” by Mozelle Perry1

I saw a large and impressive cloud appear High in the sky from my perch on a hill. As I lay on folded hands and dreamily stared, It settled right above me and began to whisper a story Of wonders from on high. It told of distances traveled throughout its venturous life. It told of lands it’d visited, Then it sang a song of sorts. It whispered, “Someday I’d [you’ll] understand its song,” But for now I’ll make you a picture and you can give Names to these lofty works of art. Much bemused, I stirred and gazed as this cloud Began to change shapes as if a Specter there in that still and unknowing sky. I saw a pixie sleeping on a pillow of down, Then, a panther who greeted me with a frown. A baby lamb then frolicked across the sky. ← 225 | 226 → Old Saint Nick flew up with Dancer close by. Then I saw a great soft pillow that invited me to fly away

Mildred’s life after retirement was full and fulfilling. Her time with Ted was limited by his death, just three years after her retirement. A year after her retirement, Ted had a stroke and Mildred’s time was devoted to his full-time care for two years before his death in 1996. As difficult as his death was for her, she committed...

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