Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was born into abject poverty in Greenwood, Mississippi. She experienced extreme racism, lack of options, and little support to change her life. As a teenager she quit school, turned to prostitution and theft as a way to make it in the world she knew – a world that included being raped by a neighbor, multiple “fathers” and broken dreams.
Her first time in jail was as a teenager having dropped out of school and turned towards a life of prostitution and theft. She was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail – but this wouldn’t be the last time. She went to prison on assault and battery charges after having married, given birth, and found her husband cheating. When she was released from prison, her options were narrow and she returned to “streetwalking” – the life she knew.
This time, the man she pursued was active in SNCC. Holland pursued him all the way back to SNCC offices where she was introduced to the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Holland would go to jail many times in her future, not for streetwalking but for protesting with the Movement. One these trips included the state penitentiary with other Civil Rights activists. After thirty-three days, she was released and shortly thereafter met Dr. Jackson and Dr. King.
In 1965 she enrolled at the University of Minnesota, took thirteen years to finish her B.A. in Black studies, went on for her Ph.D. and traveled the country speaking out against the atrocities she had seen and experienced. She added “Endesha” (meaning Driver) to her name just prior to receiving her doctorate. Ms. Holland’s autobiographical play “From the Mississippi Delta” has been playing for years and bringing the type of recognition that most playwrights only dream of.
Dr. Holland was a tenured professor in American Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo and went on to teach at the University of Southern California where she retired in 2003. She scaled to heights undreamt of as a poor, teenaged prostitute in the Mississippi Delta. As a civil rights leader, professor, and playwright Dr. Holland showed the world a force that was more potent than the racism and poverty that tried to hold her back.
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