Endesha Ida Mae Holland


Endesha Ida Mae Holland (August 29, 1944 – January 25, 2006)

The following text is from a piece on Dr. Holland by Dr. Habibi Minnie Wilson. It was written in 2005, prior to Dr. Holland’s death in 2006.

When Ida Mae Holland entered the world on August 29, 1944, in Green­wood, Miss., no one could have predicted the odyssey that would become her life. “Cat,” as she was nicknamed, was born in a rundown, drafty shotgun house to a poor but resourceful black woman, who already had three hungry mouths to feed, no formal education and limited employment choices. Curious, smart and precocious, young Ida learned from her mother, Ida Mae–familiarly known as Aint Baby–how to dream big dreams, for herself and others, in their impoverished Delta community. During the 1940s and 1950s, Greenwood was a place where black people lived in fear of their lives-and rightfully so, as lynchings, rapes, firebombings and a range of unimaginably gruesome atrocities were commonplace.

Raped by a white man on her 11th birthday, expelled from school, a prostitute at 12 and a mother at 15, Holland was headed in the wrong direction; that is, until the civil rights movement came to her town. She was swept into the momentum, participating in sit-ins, mass rallies, even going to jail with other activists, and her life was transformed. “From that moment on I said I could be somebody,” she writes in her memoir. In retaliation for her daughter’s activism, Aint Baby’s home was firebombed by members of the Klan and she was killed. Devastated but determined, Holland earned her GED, and in 1966 she moved north to Minneapolis. Soon afterward, she added “Endesha” to her name-which is Swahili for “one who drives herself and others forward.”

Subsequently, Holland earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in American studies, with a concentration in theatre arts (playwriting). The first of her plays, The Second Doctor Lady, is about her mother, whose skill and competency earned her the title, and it won the Lorraine Hansberry Award for Best Play in 1981.

From the Mississippi Delta, her sixth play and part of a trilogy, has earned critical acclaim and has been nationally and internation­ally celebrated as an inspiring dramatic portrayal of the human ex­perience, as viewed through the eyes of an African-American woman. (Holland’s memoir, also entitled From the Mississippi Delta, was originally published by Simon & Schuster and is avail­able in hardcover and paperback in bookstores.)

Dr. Endesha, as she is called by her students, is now a retired pro­fessor emeritus from the University of Southern California, where she held joint appointments both in the School of Theatre and the program of the Study of Women and Men in Society (SWMS) from 1993 to 2003. Forced into early retirement and a wheelchair by ataxia, a hereditary, neuromuscular disorder, Holland now re­sides in Marina del Rey, Calif., and hopes that her legacy to her students and audiences around the world is one of determination, hope, motivation and inspiration. She holds herself up to the light as a constant reminder that anyone can make it, anyone can sur­vive … anyone can be somebody.

– Dr. Habibi Minnie Wilson, Los Angeles, Calif., 2005

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