Above: Jan Pratt’s home in Decatur is decorated with mementos of her travels around the world; photos by Joe Earle
When 60,000 or so people gathered in downtown Atlanta last January to march for women’s rights and social justice, Jan Pratt was there. “It was a powerful moment,” she recalled recently. “You’re walking. People are chanting.”
The 70-year-old retired Emory University law professor was so moved by the march that she wrote a poem about it. In her poem, she connected the January march in spirit to public protests she’d joined in the past.
“March against a war that saps away our young strength,” it says in part. “March against a system that keeps many in slavery/Marchers are united in their diversity/March against those who would seek to return us/To an unobtainable past./My past./I walk.”
After all, the 2017 march was nothing new for Pratt. She recalls rallying against racism when she was a student in her native England in the 1960s, and, after she moved to the United States, publicly protesting the War in Vietnam. She later joined rallies in Georgia for women’s rights.
“My daughter marched in her first protest when she was in a stroller,” Pratt recalled with a grin.
Throughout her life, Pratt has tried to make the world a bit better. She’s worked with the National Organization for Women and promoted passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, successfully lobbied the Georgia Legislature to rewrite the state’s rape laws to treat victims better, has done missionary work in Appalachia and taught English in Africa.
“You only pass this way once,” she said. “Shouldn’t you try to do something to improve somebody’s life? That’s what I was taught we are here for.”
In 1996, she was awarded the Outstanding Child Advocate award by the Children’s Legal Advocacy Coalition. In 2012, she was honored with the Emory Public Interest Committee Award for a lifetime of commitment to those in need.
In November, she was among 23 people honored by LeadingAge Georgia, the Georgia Institute on Aging and other groups for doing exceptional things to better the community. Pratt was chosen to receive the Profiles of Positive Aging Image Award because her “life mission has always been to speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves,” said a biography of her published in connection with the award.
The organization named Melvin Pender, Jr. its 2017 Icon in Positive Aging. Pender, a 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist, is also a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.
Pratt grew up in England, where she learned early that the decks were stacked against a young girl. At age 11, even though she scored well on a national examination used to determine student placement in school, members of her family initially opposed her plans to continue her education, she said.
“That was the first time I realized that being a woman didn’t mean you could do what you wanted to do—just because you’re a woman,” she said.
Luckily, her father, a house painter, knew the head of the local school and he convinced her father to allow her to continue her schooling.
Through her school years, Pratt said, others thought she should become a bank teller or a teacher of young children. She disagreed. She went on to college to study law. She joined the bar—“I met the queen and Prince Philip at an Inn of Court dinner,” she said.—and after deciding to continue her legal studies for a higher degree, she won a grant to continue her studies at New York University.
“I am the prototype immigrant,” she said. “The first view I had of this country was the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.”
After she and her husband settled in Atlanta in 1973, she worked at Agnes Scott College and Emory University. At Emory, she worked with a program placing law students in jobs in law firms so they could better understand the profession. She’s now an emeritus member of the law school faculty.
Pratt has traveled widely, visiting countries scattered around the globe from Cuba to Croatia and Korea to Kenya. Her Decatur home is decorated with scores of travel mementoes which, she pointed out, include items reflecting the world’s great religions.
One wall of her home was set aside to honor early leaders in the fight for women’s rights. There, she displays documents and photos she’s collected that are related to the Women’s Suffrage Movement and to women who protested to win women the right to vote.
“You should try to do what you can while you’re here,” she said. “I think an awful lot of people put off doing things in their lives because they want to get rich. What kind of life would you have if you want to spend everything on yourself?”
Profiles of Positive Aging Image Awards 2017
Positive Aging Icon Image Award: Melvin “Mel” Pender, Jr.
Positive Aging Awards: Frances Njuakom Nchii of Cameroon; Dr. Carleton S. Guptill of Atlanta; Jackie Herndon of Athens, Ga.; Russ Marable of Athens, Ga.; Janette Barnes Pratt of Decatur; Doris Ledbetter of Atlanta; Roger and MaryEarle Scovil of Atlanta; Charity Barnes of Atlanta; Michael Piccone of Atlanta; Tom McDermott of Roswell; Julia Beasley of Atlanta; Shirley Herron of Lithonia; Margery Avery of Atlanta; Wesley Stephens of Atlanta; Charles and Jody Lewis of Macon; Juanita Watson of Atlanta; Mary Barber of Atlanta; LaVerne Gaither of Atlanta; Robert Bowles of Thomaston; and Janice Williams of East Point.
Source: LeadingAge Georgia