08.22.14
John Foster | Accidental Mysteries

Book Review: The True Gospel Preached Here

Twenty years ago, while passing through Vicksburg, Mississippi, photographer and Missouri State University professor Bruce West stumbled upon a unique grocery store. Margaret’s Grocery was covered with religious writings and Masonic symbols, and the exterior was painted in red, pink, and yellow. A sign out front read: “Come as a visitor. Leave as a friend.” 

That West stopped to look more closely was not that unusual: it was, after all, in his nature as a photographer to seek out the unusual, and while the locals of Vicksburg may have been used to it, to a traveler this place was other-worldly. Part store, part church, this place was a hybrid of commerce and communion: if the hosts could sell a refreshing soft drink and preach the Gospel at the same time, things would be just fine.

It was there that Mr. West met — and eventually became friends with — the Rev. Herman Dennis and his wife Margaret, for whom the store is named. (The store's tagline is: Home of the Double-Headed Eagle.) Over time, and with repeated visits that spanned over twenty years, the couple came to love West, even going so far as to call him their “son”. Indeed, it didn’t matter to them at all that he was white and they were black. Outside their store, a sign testified to precisely this.
“God don’t have no white church.
 God don’t have no black church.
 Only one church.”
Such evangelical messaging was (and is) fundamentally atypical of the South, where signs can be deliberately intended to scare passersby into pure righteousness with warnings of hell, fire and brimstone. Not so with the Dennis Family, where all were always welcome.  

Recently published by The University Press of Mississippi, The True Gospel Preached Here — with a forward by the esteemed folklorist and documentarian Tom Rankin — includes sixty-four large color photographs taken by West. Images like these could never have been made without a close and special relationship to the subject(s), a fact which explains, at least in part, why this book resonates with such humanity and warmth. From his earliest meeting with the Dennises twenty years ago and up until their deaths, West leaves us with an extremely focused, fearless and magical study. This is an exceptionally impressive book.

The True Gospel Preached Here
By Bruce West with a foreword by Tom Rankin
2014, University of Mississippi Press
96 pages | 64 color plates $35  

All photographs © copyright Bruce West.


Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. Dennis, #1, 1994

Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. Dennis, #3, 1996

Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. Dennis, #4, 1996

Margaret's Grocery
Interior of Margaret’s Grocery, 1999

Margaret's Grocery
Interior of The Reverend’s Bus/Church, 1999

Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. Dennis, #12, 1999

Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. Dennis with Candelabra, 2000

Margaret's Grocery
Mrs. Margaret Dennis Bending, 2002

Margaret's Grocery
Sign: No White, No Black Church, 2005

Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. and Margaret Dennis, #1, 2002

Margaret's Grocery
The Reverend’s Golden Chair, 2002

Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. and Margaret Dennis, #2, 2002

Margaret's Grocery
The Reverend Reviews his Sermon Notes, 2004

Margaret's Grocery
Mrs. Margaret Dennis with Cats, 2006

Margaret's Grocery
The Reverend’s Bus/Church, 2007

Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. Dennis with Ear Trumpet, #1, 2005

Margaret's Grocery
Altar, Inside the Bus/Church, 2007

Margaret's Grocery
Mrs. Margaret Dennis in Her Kitchen, 2007

Margaret's Grocery
Interior of Margaret’s Grocery (Les Straker), 2008

Margaret's Grocery
Reverend H. D. Dennis with Cap, 2008

Margaret's Grocery
Cover of book.

Posted in: Accidental Mysteries, Books, Photography, Religion


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