This week’s ”Stage” feature is a profile of veteran North Texas actor-director Phyllis Cicero, who helmed Jubilee Theatre’s current production of Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s autobiographical play ”From the Mississippi Delta.” Holland grew up desperately poor in Greenwood, Mississippi in the 1950s. She became a prostitute, a streetfighter, and a thief before she volunteered to help register Southern black voters in the 1960s. Soon she was a full-time civil rights activist and, years later, a professor and playwright.
“From the Mississippi Delta” – also available as a memoir — is impressive because Holland speaks unflinchingly about her own motives and she refuses to embrace the victim label. This terrific 1992 feature from “Ebony” reflects that candor. She reveals that she turned to prostitution not out of coercion, but because it was, in her mind, the lesser of two evils – she refused to destroy her body and spirit with crushing mindless labor in the cotton fields. She also admits to an early ambivalence about the African-American civil rights movement – until the Klan entered her life with tragic force. Holland’s not widely celebrated as a major civil rights figure today, but the extraordinary details of her life and work are worth revisiting.