This is part one of a several part series depicting the life, events and wisdom of local Civil Rights heroine, Dr. Frances Pratt. Dr. Pratt, of Nyack, sat down with The Rockland County Times to share her rise from a child growing up in the segregated south to the first African-American head nurse at the Nyack Hospital Emergency room and the President of Nyack’s NAACP. Compelled by her rigorous faith, Dr. Pratt offers her unequivocal condemnation of the suppression of the voiceless and the exploitation of the vulnerable. An ardent member of her community, Dr. Pratt has inspired the locals and influenced the next generation to be advocates in their own right.
Lessons About Disciplining Your Child
“We had to do what the white man told us to say or do,” said Dr. Pratt.
Dr. Pratt, who was then Frances Powell, grew up in South Carolina during the Jim Crow era.
Coming from a religious family, Pratt honors Christian Scripture that recognizes reprimanding one’s child.
During her childhood in the segregated south, Dr Pratt saw the cruelty of racial persecution first hand. African Americans were often treated as less than second-class citizens, facing mistreatment by the police, an issue that persists to this day, and could be accused of crimes for simply existing.
“There were no laws in the ‘books’ that would protect anything that a black person did if it was against a white person,” conveyed Dr. Pratt.
An inquisitive child, Pratt pondered the reasons why she would have to be protected from society. She did not understand, at the time, why she had to accommodate the white man.
“The reason for that is because, had we not abided, there was a consequence we would have to pay,” expressed Pratt.
The fear was real. And while Frances would later become a Civil Rights icon in her community, championing the rights of minorities, at the time she had to live within the margins of segregated society.
Pratt credits both her parents, notably her mother, for protecting her, as best they could, from the cruel systems of racism, bigotry and hatred.
“She was smart enough to discipline me at home to protect me from the abuse of white people,” said Pratt. “She protected us from danger if we stepped out of bounds as a black person.”
Habitually, according to Pratt, the parents of minority families were the chief disciplinarians, preparing their children to function in a world rigged against their interests. The parents wanted to “straighten the child in the home” before entering the streets.
Pratt even recalls the occasion when a member of her extended family would “slap her across the mouth if [she] uttered a bad word.”
“I never said a bad word again,” teased Pratt. “However, truly, the family structure prevented many black boys and girls from suffering at the hands of the police. We need that family spirit today.”
“My mother said you can make it if you try,” Pratt proudly declared.
From segregated buses, to studying to become a missionary, to going on to become the first African American head nurse at Nyack Hospital Emergency room, to serving as President of the Nyack NAACP for 40 years, Dr. Pratt is noted as an august individual.
“I look for solutions in all that I do,” said Pratt. “Just as my mother was my guiding force, I seek to relish in her spirits for the rest of my days.”
And boy, is there more to come from Dr. Frances Pratt!
In the words of Dr. Pratt, “Keep on, keeping on!”
Stay tuned for Part Two of this interview, where Dr. Pratt is vulnerable about her rise as a nurse and discusses the dynamics of social activism.