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

Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America

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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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Foreword by James D. Anderson

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Foreword

 

Note: James D. Anderson is the Dean and Edward William and Jane Marr Gutsgell Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. His scholarship focuses broadly on the history of U.S. education, with specializations in the history of African-American education in the South, the history of higher education desegregation, the history of public school desegregation, and the history of African-American school achievement in the twentieth century.

At first glance, Dr. Mildred Sirls Pratt’s story is one of the genesis, rise, and remarkable triumph of an extraordinary individual overcoming herculean odds. To be sure, noteworthy achievement is a central part of her story. Yet, the more we read about the things that tormented her, of the inner strengths she mustered to break down countless race, gender, and class barriers, and of her intellect and determination to carve out a better life for herself and her family, we realize that her experiences are reflective of the larger world made and remade by generations of ordinary Black men and women. However, her remarkable feats—despite successive setbacks—as she navigated a career as a tenure track professor without a blueprint is a story of legend. Learning of Mildred Sirls Pratt’s experiences connects us with the life and culture of the generations of African-Americans who lived from the end of slavery through the postmodern Civil Rights movement. Her childhood experiences in the Jim Crow South connects us to...

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