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.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.
God don’t have no black church.
Only one church.”
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.