The historic Black Bottom neighborhood was the vibrant epicenter of Black life in Detroit.
And in Alice Randall’s new book “Black Bottom Saints,” the Detroit-born author is breathing new life into the scenes, characters and nightlife that defined the eastside enclave.
Listen: novelist Alice Randall discusses the Black aesthetic of Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood
“The historical Black Bottom continues to live on in the hearts and spirits of people,” says Randall. “One of the things that I think is extraordinary and makes Black Bottom more significant than Bronzeville in Chicago and Harlem in New York is that it had hundreds of Black-owned bars and nightclubs that had wholly Black audiences and a particular kind of aesthetic.”
“I decided to unearth the most important stories of Black Bottom and tell them in Ziggy’s voice as a monument to a forgotten man.”
Adjacent to another Black neighborhood known as Paradise Valley, Black Bottom was eventually razed by the 1960s to become part of the I-375 freeway as part of sweeping urban renewal programs in Detroit and around the country.
Mixing historical storytelling with whimsical imagination, “Black Bottom Saints” is told through the lens of Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson — an exaggerated version of a real person who was an emcee at one of the hotspot neighborhood nightclubs and popular gossip columnist for the Michigan Chronicle – both black-owned establishments. He’s also the founder and dean of the Ziggy Johnson School of Theater.
While on his deathbed, Ziggy reflects on his life, his community and the people who helped shape his world. Within the pages, he curates and pays tribute to a list of Black Bottom’s venerable 53 saints.
“Because Ziggy’s language was the first language I fell in love with, and because the stories he told me helped me move from trauma to transcendence, I decided to unearth the most important stories of Black Bottom and tell them in Ziggy’s voice as a monument to a forgotten man,” says Randall.