What do we learn from the journey of a Black woman, who grew up picking cotton in the 1930s in rural Texas as one of 8 siblings in a single parent sharecropping household, who became a full professor of social work at a time when less than 1% of Black women were full professors in the 1970s? What do we learn from her own voice, her own autobiography, her own telling of her story in “A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America”?
We learn about the power of the powerless. Although life for her “ain’t been no crystal stair,” like the mother in Langston Hughes’ poem, she continued to climb the rough and dirty stairs of life and did not let her childhood events define her, undermine her, or deter her. Rather, they fueled her determination to “make a way out of no way,” to survive, to thrive, and to lift others as she climbed.
This book 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 Emeritus of Social Work, who, by lifting as she climbed, influenced hundreds of students and empowered a community. Her path to full professor, took her through Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Los Angeles, Michigan, Pittsburgh, and Illinois. Her inspirational story from the outhouse to the White House provides an insightful look at issues of race, class, and gender in America.
“A Black Woman’s Journey 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
“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
Book Purchase: A Black Woman’s Journey is available on Amazon and Peter Lang.