On August 25, 2021, photographer Suzi Altman presented “Saving a Folk Art Icon: Margaret’s Grocery” as part of the History Is Lunch series.
Margaret Rogers’ grocery outside Vicksburg was notable in the 1950s and ‘60s as perhaps the only such store on all of Highway 61 to have been owned and operated by a Black woman. “After the death of her first husband, Margaret met the Rev. Herman Dennis, who promised her that if she married him he would build a castle to their love,” said Altman.
Herman Dennis used such modest materials as cinder blocks, Mardi Gras beads, and strings of electric lights to transform the single-story building and covered much of the exterior with religious phrases. Eventually Margaret’s Grocery’s unique “bible castle” vernacular architecture and brightly painted decommissioned school bus made it a folk art touchstone that attracted tourists and international visitors. But the deaths of Margaret Dennis in 2009 and the Rev. Dennis in 2012 left the site’s future uncertain.
“I promised Miss Margaret on her death bed I would look after her husband, and I promised Rev Dennis before he passed away I would look after his palace,” said Altman. “To that end I established the Mississippi Folk Art Foundation to help preserve this unique and irreplaceable artwork.”
Brandon resident Suzi Altman has been a professional photographer for more than 30 years. Her work has been printed in the London Observer, New York Times, New York Post, and USA Today, among other publications. Her photographs are in the permanent collections of Washington, DC’s National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Mississippi Museum of Art. Altman is the founding director of the Mississippi Folk Art Foundation and the creator of the New Miss brand with Civil Rights leader James H. Meredith.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The weekly lecture series of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explores different aspects of the state's past. The hour-long programs are held in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum building at 222 North Street in Jackson.