The Rev. Herman D. “Preacher” Dennis, the man who helped craft the world-renowned Margaret’s Grocery, Vicksburg’s folk-art “Bible castle” on North Washington Street, died Tuesday.
Reverend H. D. Dennis, who is responsible for the architectural look of Margaret’s Grocery, was born in 1916 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi and married the widow Margaret Rogers, his fifth wife, in 1979.
(From my visit in 2007)
Sometimes you just get lucky. I had been wanting to meet the Reverend Dennis and his wife Margaret for sometime, and now that I was working on the book, “Detour Art,” I knew this was the time to do it. After a stormy drive from Kansas City, through Arkansas, down Highway 61, and finally to Vicksburg, the clouds parted just as we pulled in front of Margaret’s Grocery.
Margaret greeted us and invited us into the grocery. Margaret and her late husband ran a rural grocery outside Vicksburg on old Highway 61, until he was fatally shot by a neighborhood kid during a robbery. Margaret met Rev. Dennis through the ladies at church. They married in 1979 and began to fix up the place to attract attention, so Rev. Dennis could share the word of God. Rev. Dennis began to paint the building red, white, and some blue, but Margaret added the crowning touches of pink and yellow. Brick towers and signs abound, welcoming “Jews and Gentiles” with various symbols of the double-headed eagle of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, of which he is a member. The interior of the store is elaborately decorated with beads and bold paint, and as well is the church bus, which also has pews and a pulpit for preaching.
Reverend Dennis had just gotten out of the hospital the night before, (his heart – he is 91) and was still full of fire and brimstone as he began to preach…and dance. He is an absolutely delightful man, and stubborn as a mule. He kept refusing to return to the porch when his home health care worker came to check on him, instead insisting on showing me around his place, preaching to me all along the way. His message came through loud and somewhat clear, “God is love, he loves all, his black brothers and white sisters…Welcome Jews and Gentiles…” I was truly blessed to get to meet them both.
Concrete cinder blocks, large sheets of heavy metal, and found objects are used to create this art environment. The most commonly used colors on the exterior of this folk art environment were red, white, and pink.
The interior of the market-church is decorated with elaborate candelabras and chalices as well as conventional shelves for groceries. Reverend Dennis also owns a church bus, outfitted with a pulpit and pews.
The Double Headed Eagle atop the signage is not just any eagle: it is that of the 32nd degree of the Scottish Rite. Furthermore, the two pillars flanking the door of the store are marked with the golden letters B and J, initials familiar to all Masons. One of the front windows, which carries the symbol for the Order of the Eastern Star; The matching window on the other side of the facade bears the Master Mason’s symbol of a Square and Compasses with the letter G. Considering the region in which this site has been erected, one can safely assume that Reverend Dennis is a member of a Prince Hall Masonic lodge, for most of the members of that jurisdiction are African-American.