A Black Woman’s Journey is divided into three sections: Sunrise, Sunshine, and Sunset. It is a journey that tracks the daily evolution of the sun, of beginnings and endings, with the dash that represents our life in between birth and death.
Key themes include the legacy and impact of slavery and sharecropping in the 1930s; the challenges of Black girlhood (race, gender, poverty, skin color, and rape) in the 1940s; education in the midst of discrimination and segregation in the 1950s and 1960s; racism and sexism in the academy in the 1970s and 1980s; Black community engagement and radical social work in the 1980s and 1990s; and the importance of philanthropy. Ultimately it is about the triumph and empowerment of the those often disregarded, disrespected, discarded, and disempowered in American society.
Part I (Sunrise) situates the work within the context of Black feminism, critical race feminism, and Black women’s autobiographical writings. It also includes the introduction that Mildred wrote for her own autobiography. Mildred’s family history on both her mother’s and father’s sides as slaves and descendants of slaves is shared and the family’s journey to from rural Alabama to rural east Texas is traced. It also describes Mildred’s first encounters with White people. Key lessons about race, class, and gender based on the experiences of newly freed slaves are discussed. Part I also chronicles the Sirls’ family’s experiences and their daily life during the Great Depression and the 1930s. It explores the fortitude and resilience of Mildred’s mother, Eula, as she cared for eight children without her husband, who was often absent and in jail. The family’s sharecropping experiences in the 1940s are discussed and the experiences of a segregated Black community, including farming, taking care of animals, and dealing with health issues. Part I ends with a difficult discussion of Mildred’s traumatic experiences of Black girlhood, including sexual abuse, colorism, poverty, and sexism. The family’s migration to Kansas City is discussed.
Part II (Sunshine) describes the sunshine of Mildred’s life and her years of educational and academic achievement as a student and as a professor. Her college experiences at Jarvis Christian College, Butler University, and Indiana University in the 1950s, are discussed as well as a mission trip she took to Jamaica. It also discusses experiences of discrimination and segregation in Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s. Mildred’s time in Pittsburgh as she pursued her doctorate in social work at the University of Pittsburgh and started a family is also examined as well as her activism after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and her first efforts to connect social work to community engagement. This section also discusses the faculty journeys of Mildred and her husband, Ted, at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. The challenges of raising Black children in America during the 1970s and the 1980s are explored. There is also an in-depth look at the Bloomington-Normal Black History Project and Mildred’s role as founder and co-director in capturing and preserving the oral narratives of almost 100 elderly African-Americans. It explores the history of the project, the stories from the project, and the project’s social impact.
The book concludes by examining Mildred’s later years in the 21st century (Sunset). Mildred’s recollections of meeting President Clinton and President Obama, as the guest of her son, Awadagin Pratt, who performed piano concerts at the White House is shared. It also explores Mildred’s role in creating a new legacy—the Pratt Music Foundation—in her husband’s honor after his death, to ensure that children with talent and need are able to receive music lessons. Finally, the chapter details how Mildred prepared for the end of life, including recording a concert of spirituals and poetry for her own funeral. This final act encapsulates the power and spirit of a Black woman who feared nothing—not even death—and faced every challenge with a bold determination and conviction to overcome and to be an example for others of how to also overcome.
Book Purchase: A Black Woman’s Journey is available on Amazon and Peter Lang.