From the Mississippi = Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was an American scholar, civil rights activist, teacher and playwright who rose from abject poverty, was raped at age eleven, was expelled from school and became a prostitute and eventually achieved a doctorate in American studies from the University of Minnesota. A trio of dedicated women-Claudia Logan, Tameishia Peterson and Erin Margaret Pettigrew-are bringing her incredible story to stirring life at Westport Country Playhouse until Sunday, October 30.

With a string of spirituals like “We Shall Overcome,” “May the Circle Be Unbroken,” and “This Little Light of Mine” sprinkled throughout, we follow the devastating but ultimately triumphant tale of a young black girl who grew up in the south. “From the Mississippi Delta” was written by this inspiring woman, who was jailed thirteen times for her devoted civil rights work and is directed with sensitivity by Goldie E. Patrick.

From her mother, she learned lessons like “I can be more than words” and “You don’t have to be gold to shine.” Her mother, known as “ain’t baby,” encouraged her to be somebody, to aim high as the birds and to keep her feet pointed to the top of the ladder. These pieces of philosophy served her well as she struggled up every rung of that ladder. She adopted Endesha, which means driver, as her first name to honor her African heritage.

Her mama told her stories while she ironed other people’s clothes. After being expelled from school, she took to the streets and earned her way as a prostitute. Taking on the banner of the civil rights movement pushed her in a new and more honorable direction and she became a favored speaker at rallies. This important work led her to resume her education and enter the university. It took her more than a dozen years to earn her bachelor of Arts degree in black studies and then she went on to earn her doctorate to honor her mother, a midwife.

For tickets ($40-70), call the Westport Country Playhouse, Route 1, Westport at 203-227-4177 or 888-927-7529. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 8 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Get a lesson in resilience and courage as you learn how Dr. Holland climbed a sturdy ladder and sang with the birds.

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