Endesha Ida Mae Holland
(1945 — 2006)

As remembered by Heather Baum

I am so very sad to hear this. Ida Mae was one of our roommates in the little Movement house which was home base for Civil Rights and anti-war activity off the University of Minnesota campus, in the late 1960s. After I got married and started having children, we corresponded a while and then I lost touch with her. But she was instrumental in setting the tone for all of our work. Ida was a great friend. She never stopped talking about Greenwood...and mesmerized us during many late night story and song circles. A raw, hilarious, brilliant and organic organizer; she was driven by a powerful sense of justice. She galvanized us all...and gave us the courage we needed to do what had to be done. Her spirit will always be with me.

Heather Baum
St. Paul, Minnesota

Endesha Ida Mae Holland Dies
Greenwood Commonwealth 2006

Playwright and teacher Endesha Ida Mae Holland will come back to Greenwood one last time.

"I don't think her heart ever really left Greenwood That was home," said her friend and manager Habibi Minnie Wilson.

Holland, an award-winning dramatist whose play "From the Mississippi Delta" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, died in her sleep Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006, in a nursing facility in Los Angeles. She was 61.

Arance Williamson of Greenwood, Holland's friend from girlhood and the civil rights movement, said Holland will be buried in Greenwood, but arrangements are still being made.

Services also being planned in Buffalo, N.Y., where she taught in the American studies program at the State University of New York and in Los Angeles, where she was professor emeritus at the University of Southern California's School of Theatre.

She is survived by her son, Cedric Holland; a sister, Jean Beasley, and granddaughter, all of Buffalo, N.Y., and a brother, Charlie "Bud" Nellums of Greenwood.

For 15 years, Holland battled ataxia, a degenerative neurological disease.

"She continued to teach. She continued to produce and write and perform her work," Wilson said. In recent months, Holland struggled but "she was still trying to do things for herself," Wilson said. "She was a valiant warrior. was peaceful. She just went to sleep."

Holland's early years were hard. She told her story in the play "From the Mississippi Delta" and in a memoir with the same name.

The play began as a one-woman dramatic reading. It was stitched together with threads from her own life. There are scenes of 1940s life in a wooden shack, of her strong-willed midwife mother who died in a house fire set by the Ku Klux Klan and her own rape at the age of 11. A foray into teenage prostitution followed, but her eventual involvement with the 1960s civil rights movement changed her life.

"We were in the civil rights movement, and we were next-door neighbors," Williamson said.

"She started in the movement really early., as a child. She was one of the first civil rights workers here from Greenwood who joined the movement - with Bob Moses, Willie Peacock, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael - she was here working with them."

Williamson and other friends were thrilled when "From the Mississippi Delta" was produced. The play opened off Broadway - Oprah Winfrey was one of the backers - and it toured the country.

"I went to the one in Jackson and one in California," Williamson said.

"It took my breath away. I cried during the play," she said. The play explored situations Williamson had experienced herself. "I knew firsthand it was accurate."

Circuit Judge Betty Sanders said she her husband, Alix, took their three children to the opening of "From the Mississippi Delta" in New York.

She and her husband had known Holland growing up in Greenwood, and her husband had been one of Holland's neighborhood friends. They were children in the same church, Turner Chapel.

"I was so excited about being in New York," Betty Sanders remembered. "We were just thrilled that somebody we knew was opening a play off Broadway. It was just a thrill knowing her and how far she had come."

There also was a more serious purpose for the trip. They wanted their children to see the play so they could better understand the past.

In 1965, Holland, a school dropout, left the Mississippi Delta determined to get a high school equivalency, enter college and go on to earn a doctorate. The educational journey took her 20 years, and Holland often encouraged others to take that first step. She once said she would never forget the help she received.

Wilson was among those Holland helped, and because Holland's encouragement, Wilson earned a doctorate in American studies at the university in Buffalo in 2004. The two women had known each for 16 years. She said she learned so much from Holland.

"I learned how to be courageous," Wilson said. "I learned how to be afraid but then not to be paralyzed in order to move toward something I really want. I learned to believe in myself and others, and I learned that all things are possible."

In 1979, Holland gave herself a Swahili name, Endesha, which means "one who is a driver."

"From the Mississippi Delta" earned Holland a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1988. The play also received the 1988 Audelco Playwright's Nomination and the 1990 Drama-Logue Theatre Award and was performed at the Young Vic in London in 1989.

Holland earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1979, majoring in Afro-American Studies. She received her master's degree nd Ph.D. degrees, respectively, in 1984 and 1986 in American Studies from the same university.

In 1995, she was a visiting professor at Michigan State University while two of her plays, "Miss Ida B. Wells" and "From the Mississippi Delta," were performed. In addition, the documentary "Freedom on My Mind," which features Holland, received an Academy Award nomination.

Other awards include: 1993, Finalist Award, The Fifteenth Annual Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, an international yearly award, for "Parader Without a Permit"; the Western New York Region Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission-Life Achievement Award; 1992, the Eighth National Conference Oni Award from the International Black Women's Congress, the Black Women's Forum, Inc., award for outstanding academic and creative achievement, sponsored by United States Congresswoman Maxine Waters, 29th District, Los Angeles, and the Buffalo News 43rd Annual Citizens of the Year Award.

While at the University of Minnesota, Holland was honored with the Theatre Arts department's first Student Playwriting Award and the American College Theatre Festival's Region 5 Student Playwriting Award.

She then went on to become the recipient of the 1981 Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award from the ACTF and the McDonald Corp. for "Second Doctor Lady" (1980) and "The Reconstruction of Dossie Ree Hemphill" (1980), both one-act plays.

Holland's other plays include "Fanny Lou" (1984) and "Requiem for a Snake" (1980). She wrote articles for The Michigan Quarterly Review and Ms Magazine, among others, and in 1997, her autobiography, "From the Mississippi Delta," was published by Simon & Schuster.

An archive of her work, awards and papers are part of the Givens Collection at the University of Minnesota Library.

She was a member of the Dramatist Guild, the International Black Women's Congress, Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization and the Black Theatre Network. She was a founding member of the International Women Playwrights Center and was founder and chairwoman of the Ida Mae Holland Educational and Artistic Scholarship Fund, both in Buffalo, N.Y.

Over the years, Holland would return to Greenwood to visit. After her success with "From the Mississippi Delta," the city of Greenwood set a day aside in her honor and held a celebration of her accomplishments.

Williamson said the upcoming services also should be celebrate the life of Endesha Ida Mae Holland.

"She was a great fighter, and she fought until the very last," Williamson said. "She really cared about human beings - no specific color, and she cared about this city growing. She still had a vested interest in this community."

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