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Holland, Endesha Ida Mae

Endesha Ida Mae Holland

1944–2006

Educator, playwright

"I love sharing my stories with my students," educator and playwright Endesha Ida Mae Holland once told People magazine. "I tell them about me and let them know that no matter what barriers are put in their way, they can make it."

Overcame Rough Beginnings

Holland knows about barriers. She was born on August 29, 1944, in Greenwood, Mississippi, a place she later called "a testament to African-American inferiority," as the New York Times noted. "I was always conscious of our inferiority, until the civil rights movement came." Before it came, Holland lived with her mother and never knew her father, "though there were three men who would come by and say they were my daddy," she disclosed to People. Her mother took in ironing (and, as Nation reported, became renowned "for pressing so sharp a crease in a pair of trousers that they could stand up by themselves"), then became a midwife referred to by the community as "the second doctor."

At the age of 11, Holland was baby-sitting for a white toddler one day, when the mother of the young child led Holland to her husband's bedroom to be raped. Holland is rather philosophical about the experience: "It happened to a lot of girls," she explained in People. "There was a saying that a white man didn't want to die unless he'd had a black girl."

By age 13, Holland quit school and earned rent money for her mother and siblings as a prostitute (she charged her white customers double), until she followed a stranger into an office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1962. She saw black women working at typewriters, which so inspired the 18-year-old Holland that she began volunteering at the SNCC office. She traveled extensively across the nation for the civil rights movement; she worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., and was jailed more than a dozen times. New York Times writer Glenn Collins reported that the other civil rights workers were warned that Holland was a scandalous person; however, "the workers were all inexperienced in going to jail, [and] I was a veteran: I knew how to survive there…. I'd been there so often for stealing and fighting. I felt like a queen in jail. The workers really needed me, and I used to protect them." Holland considered being jailed for her civil rights work as a real moment of glory.

Despite "inspir[ing] her children to make something of themselves by seizing opportunities she never had," as Time magazine recorded, Holland's mother was nervous about her daughter's activism, with good reason: her house was firebombed in 1965. Holland came home to see her mother, in flames, die at her own front door. Holland maintained to People magazine reporters: "Neighbors saw who did it but were afraid to say…. I think the firebomb was meant for me." She suspected that the Ku Klux Klan was punishing her for her civil rights work.

Told Her Story on Stage

Holland left Mississippi in 1966 and headed north. Not long after, she was accepted as a student at the University of Minnesota, a new world for her. In addition to helping start an African-American studies department, Holland initiated Women Helping Offenders (WHO), a prison-aid program that occupied a great deal of her time and even paid her a salary. In 1983, Holland took Endesha as her first name in order to honor her African heritage.

Taking a play-writing class as an "easy" way to satisfy degree requirements, Holland wrote a story called The Second Doctor Lady about her mother. When she read it in class, "everyone was weeping." This is the play Holland eventually expanded into From the Mississippi Delta. She also completed master's and doctoral degrees and had all the street people she had met throughout her travels attend her graduation in 1985. She told People: "The whores and pimps and junkies were there…. When they called my name, the entire auditorium rose to its feet."

From the Mississippi Delta was performed regionally both in the United States and in London before it opened Off-Broadway in late 1991. The play has been widely reviewed and, as Time noted, "blends folktales, childhood memories, salty down-home sociological observations and blues and gospel standards with Holland's unabashed 'confessions.'"

Critics generally applauded Holland's play. A reviewer for Variety wrote, "Conceived in straightforward storytelling terms, the play is an extraordinary work of autobiography by someone who struggled against the twin evils of racial bigotry and poverty in the Mississippi delta in the '40s." Margaret Spillane, writing in Nation, contended that Holland's play "contains two of the most astonishing dramatic moments I have ever seen onstage": the rape of eleven-year-old Phelia, and her mother, Aint Baby, presiding over the birth of a couple's thirteenth child. Spillane also asserted: "Aint Baby regards her midwife's certificate not as an emblem of superiority over her neighbors but as a means to guarantee that their community will carry on…. [And] when Phelia uses her cap-and-gowned moment of glory to name every single person from the Delta and beyond who ever extended love and wisdom to her, she seems to rise atop a pyramid made of their names, their unseen lives unearthed by the act of naming."

Became Beloved Teacher

Holland taught American Studies at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo beginning in the mid-1980s. The New York Times described her as "a large, authoritative woman with an expressive face and a powerful presence," and the head of the American Studies department, Professor Elizabeth Kennedy, told People magazine that Holland "create[d] an electric atmosphere in the classroom" and noted that her courses were so popular that many more students tried to get into them than could be admitted.

Holland relished the new order in her life provided by her position. She overcame the barriers of poverty and low expectations, but never disavowed her background. Indeed, New York Times writer Collins recounted that "she [wasn't] embarrassed by the intrusion of her raunchy past into her current life." Rather, she profited from it by dramatizing her life for the stage. "I've had an extraordinary life," Holland claimed in the same article; "I'm not ashamed of my life, and I'm proud to say that I've changed…. Young people need to know that they can do wrong things and yet still change and grow."

At a Glance …

Born Ida Mae Holland on August 29, 1944, in 'Greenwood, MS; died January 25, 2006, in Santa Monica, CA; daughter of a midwife; married in 1963 (divorced, 1966); married second husband (a professor; divorced); married third husband (divorced); children: Cedric. Education: University of Minnesota, BA, 1979, MA, 1984, PhD, 1986.

Career: Quit school to become a prostitute, c. late 1950s; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Greenwood, MS, office volunteer, 1962, and civil rights worker, 1963–66 (jailed 13 times); co-founder, African-American studies program at University of Minnesota; founder, Women Helping Offenders (prison-aid program); State University of New York at Buffalo, American Studies department, professor, 1986–1993; University of Southern California, School of Theatre, playwright-in-residence, then professor emeritus, 1993–2006.

Awards: Lorraine Hansberry Award for best play, 1981, for The Second Doctor Lady; Helen Hayes Award for best nonresident play for From the Mississippi Delta; October 18 declared as Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland Day in Greenwood, MS, 1991.

In 1991, the town of Greenwood, Mississippi, designated October 18 as Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland Day. Receiving the key to the city on the steps of Greenwood's city hall, Holland remarked, "The last time I was on those steps I was on my way to jail." Commenting on the turnaround, Mississippi's governor Ray Mabus said that Holland's history "serves as a model for all people, to show that with determination we can overcome obstacles for a better life." For Holland, the only obstacle that she could not overcome was ataxia, a degenerative neurological disease that slowly eroded her physical abilities over the last 15 years of her life. In 1993 she left SUNY-Buffalo and took a position as playwright-in-residence and then professor emeritus at the University of Southern California's theatre program. She passed away on January 25, 2006, at her home near Los Angeles.

Selected writings

The Second Doctor Lady, 1979, performed by the Negro Ensemble Company, first produced in London at the Young Vic Theatre; revised as From the Mississippi Delta (two-act autobiographical drama), produced Off-Broadway at Circle in the Square, November 1991.
From the Mississippi: A Memoir, Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Sources

American Theatre, vol. 23, no. 4, April 2006.

Boston Globe, June 4, 1991.

Buffalo News, April 5, 1998.

Chicago Tribune, January 14, 1990.

Ebony, June 1, 1992.

Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1994.

Nation, July 1, 1991.

New York Times, June 9, 1991; November 5, 1991; November 12, 1991; February 1, 2006.

New Yorker, September 5, 1988.

People, December 2, 1991.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis), February 12, 1993.

Time, November 25, 1991.

Variety, June 10, 1991; February 6, 2006.

Wall Street Journal, February 13, 1991.

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"Holland, Endesha Ida Mae." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Holland, Endesha Ida Mae." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/holland-endesha-ida-mae

"Holland, Endesha Ida Mae." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/holland-endesha-ida-mae

Holland, Endesha Ida Mae 1944–

Endesha Ida Mae Holland 1944

Professor and playwright

At a Glance

Play Received Critical Applause

Her Birthplace Established Dr. Holland Day

Selected writings

Sources

Image not available for copyright reasons

I love sharing my stories with my students, Endesha Ida Mae Holland told People magazine. I tell them about me and let them know that no matter what barriers are put in their way, they can make it.

Holland knows about barriers. Born in 1944 in Greenwood, Mississippi, she later called the place a testament to African-American inferiority, as the New York Times noted. I was always conscious of our inferiority, until the civil rights movement came. Before it came, Holland lived with her mother and never knew who her father was, though there were three men who would come by and say they were my daddy, she disclosed to People. Her mother took in ironing (and, as Nation reported, became renowned for pressing so sharp a crease in a pair of trousers that they could stand up by themselves), then became a midwife referred to by the community as the second doctor.

At the age of eleven, Holland was baby-sitting for a white toddler one day, when the mother of the young child led Holland to her husbands bedroom to be raped. Holland is rather philosophical about the experience: It happened to a lot of girls, she explained in People. There was a saying that a white man didnt want to die unless hed had a black girl.

By age 13, Holland quit school and earned rent money for her mother and siblings as a prostitute (she charged her white customers double), until she followed a stranger into an office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1962. She saw black women working at typewriters, which so inspired the 18-year-old Holland that she began volunteering at the SNCC office. She traveled extensively across the nation for the civil rights movement; she worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., and was jailed more than a dozen times. New York Times writer Glenn Collins reported that the other civil rights workers were warned that Holland was a scandalous person; however, the workers were all inexperienced in going to jail, [and] I was a veteran: I knew how to survive there. Id been there so often for stealing and fighting. I felt like a queen in jail. The workers really needed me, and I used to protect them. Holland considered being jailed for her civil rights work as a real moment of glory.

Despite inspir[ing] her children to make something of themselves by seizing opportunities she never had, as

At a Glance

Born August 29, 1944, in Greenwood, MS; daughter of a midwife; married in 1963 (divorced, 1966); married second husband (a professor; divorced); married third husband (divorced); children: Cedric. Education : University of Minnesota, M.A., 1979, M.A., 1984, Ph.D., 1986.

Quit school to become a prostitute, c. late 1950s; volunteer at Greenwood, MS, offices of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), 1962; civil rights worker, 1963-66 (jailed 13 times); cofounder, African-American studies program at University of Minnesota; founder, Women Helping Offenders (WHO; a prison-aid program); State University of New York at Buffalo, associate professor of American studies, c. 1985.

Awards: Lorraine Hansberry Award for best play, 1981, for The Second Doctor Lady; Helen Hayes Award for best nonresident play for From the Mississippi Delta; October 18 declared as Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland Day in Greenwood, MS, 1991.

Addresses: Office Department of American Studies, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260.

Time magazine recorded, Hollands mother was nervous about her daughters activism, with good reason: her house was firebombed in 1965. Holland came home to see her mother, in flames, die at her own front door. Holland maintained to People magazine reporters: Neighbors saw who did it but were afraid to say. I think the firebomb was meant for me. She suspected that the Ku Klux Klan was punishing her for her civil rights work.

Holland left Mississippi and headed north. Not long after, she was accepted as a student at the University of Minnesotaa new world for her. In addition to helping start an African-American studies department, Holland initiated Women Helping Offenders (WHO), a prison-aid program that occupied a great deal of her time and even paid her a salary.

Taking a play-writing class as an easy way to satisfy degree requirements, Holland wrote The Second Doctor Lady about her mother; when she read it in class, everyone was weeping. This is the play Holland eventually expanded into From the Mississippi Delta. She also completed masters and doctoral degrees and had all the street people she had met throughout her travels attend her graduation in 1985. She told People : The whores and pimps and junkies were there. When they called my name, the entire auditorium rose to its feet.

Play Received Critical Applause

From the Mississippi Delta was performed regionally both in the United States and in London before it opened Off-Broadway in late 1991. The play has been widely reviewed and, as Time noted, blends folktales, childhood memories, salty down-home sociological observations and blues and gospel standards with Hollands unabashed confessions.

Critics generally applauded Hollands play. A reviewer for Variety wrote, Conceived in straightforward storytelling terms, the play is an extraordinary work of autobiography by someone who struggled against the twin evils of racial bigotry and poverty in the Mississippi delta in the 40s. Margaret Spillane, writing in Nation, contended that Hollands play contains two of the most astonishing dramatic moments I have ever seen onstagethe rape of eleven-year-old Phelia, and her mother, Aint Baby, presiding over the birth of a couples thirteenth child. Spillane also asserted: Aint Baby regards her midwifes certificate not as an emblem of superiority over her neighbors but as a means to guarantee that their community will carry on. [And] when Phelia uses her cap-and-gowned moment of glory to name every single person from the Delta and beyond who ever extended love and wisdom to her, she seems to rise atop a pyramid made of their names, their unseen lives unearthed by the act of naming.

Holland has taught American studies at State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo since the mid-1980s. The New York Times described her as a large, authoritative woman with an expressive face and a powerful presence, and the head of the department in which Holland teaches at SUNY-Buffalo, Professor Elizabeth Kennedy, told People magazine that Holland creates an electric atmosphere in the classroom and also said her courses are so popular that many more students try to get into them than can be admitted.

Her Birthplace Established Dr. Holland Day

Holland relishes the new order in her own life. She overcame the barriers of poverty and low expectations, but she never disavowed her background. Indeed, New York Times writer Collins recounted that she isnt embarrassed by the intrusion of her raunchy past into her current life.

Rather, she has profited from it by dramatizing her life for the stage. Ive had an extraordinary life, Holland claimed in the same article; Im not ashamed of my life, and Im proud to say that Ive changed. Young people need to know that they can do wrong things and yet still change and grow.

In Hollands honor, the town of Greenwood, Mississippi, designated October 18 as Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland Day. Receiving the key to the city on the steps of Greenwoods city hall, Holland remarked, The last time I was on those steps I was on my way to jail. Commenting on the turnaround, Mississippis governor Ray Mabus said that Hollands history serves as a model for all people, to show that with determination we can overcome obstacles for a better life.

Selected writings

The Second Doctor Lady, 1979, performed by the Negro Ensemble Company, first produced in London at the Young Vic Theatre; revised as From the Mississippi Delta (two-act autobiographical drama), produced Off-Broadway at Circle in the Square, November 1991.

Sources

Boston Globe, June 4, 1991.

Chicago Tribune, January 14, 1990.

Nation, July 1, 1991.

New York Times, June 9, 1991; November 5, 1991; November 12, 1991.

New Yorker, September 5, 1988.

People, December 2, 1991.

Time, November 25, 1991.

Variety, June 10, 1991.

Wall Street Journal, February 13, 1991.

Fran Locher Freiman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Holland, Endesha Ida Mae 1944–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Holland, Endesha Ida Mae 1944–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/holland-endesha-ida-mae-1944

"Holland, Endesha Ida Mae 1944–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/holland-endesha-ida-mae-1944