Nov. 11, 1991
Endesha Ida Mae Holland debuted her play, “From the Mississippi Delta,” at the Circle in the Square Downtown in Chicago.
The play, partly financed by Oprah Winfrey, detailed her journey from poverty and prostitution in the Jim Crow South to a life of activism in the civil rights movement. Born in 1944, she grew up in a shack in Greenwood that was overrun with roaches. When she was 11, a white man, who had hired her as a babysitter, raped her and afterward handed her a $5 bill.
“I decided then and there not to tell mama what had happened,” she wrote. “What was the point? So we could both feel bad?”
She turned to prostitution to help her family make ends meet. In 1962, she pursued a young man to the SNCC office in Jackson, where she discovered Mississippi’s burgeoning civil rights movement. In the movement, she found a purpose that had been lacking. She was jailed 13 times for her involvement, including one time where she was sent to one of the nation’s worst prisons, Parchman.
In 1965, a suspicious fire, which Holland suspected had been set by the Ku Klux Klan, killed her mother. Instead of quitting, she vowed to make something of herself, and fellow activists encouraged her to get the education she had never received.
In 1981, she won the National Lorraine Hansberry Award for writing one of the best plays in the nation. A decade later, “From the Mississippi Delta” debuted.
Holland worked as a professor at the University of Southern California until she retired. She died in 2006 of ataxia, a degenerative nerve condition, and a Mississippi Writers Trail marker now honors her.