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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.

“Dr. Mildred Sirls Pratt’s story is one of the genesis, rise, and remarkable triumph of an extraordinary individual overcoming herculean odds. Her remarkable feats—despite successive setbacks—as she navigated a career as a tenure track professor without a blueprint is a story of legend. Her life is an amazing journey from sharecropping to the academy. Her memoir is an insightful window into what it means to be Black in America, individually and collectively.”—James Anderson, Dean, College of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

A Black Woman's Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor is a wonderful and special journey. I encourage others to explore this amazing life story. I’m sure they will enjoy it as much as I did.”—Nikki Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English, Virginia Tech

“This enormously important volume documents the first generation of African American women professors at predominantly White academic institutions in the wake of the modern civil rights movement. It will make a splendid contribution to women’s history, gender studies, and to African American life and history. It will inspire African American women in the academy to chronicle their own lives and contributions to the intellectual and historical record.”—Darlene Clark Hine, Professor of African American Studies and Professor of History, Northwestern University

“All gain from reading this book about the life of Dr. Mildred Pratt. There are few fields of scholarly inquiry or general interests that are not at least touched upon in these pages. Here is, ultimately, an important commentary on race and rights, class and status, gender, and Jim and Jane Crow. The world was made better by Dr. Mildred Pratt having been a part of it. Others will be left better for having read this story of her life.”—Stephanie Shaw, Professor of History, Ohio State University