Classic Catalog

Black Bottom Saints

by Alice Randall

About the Book

Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood was brimming with music, culture, and excitement. Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson lived in the heart of it. As a newspaper columnist, he knew what was happening in the city. As an emcee for some of Detroit’s biggest clubs, he made friends with musicians. As dean of his own theatre school, he brought art to Detroit’s children. But in the early 1960s, Black Bottom’s future was being replaced with a freeway, and Ziggy’s health was failing. His last wish was to write a book that shares the spirit and wisdom of his community with the next generation.

Black Bottom Saints is a lively tour through Black Detroit’s history. Filled with struggle and perseverance, a master emcee guides the story. Inspired by the Catholic Saints Day Books, it honors 52 weekly “Saints” of Black Bottom. Ziggy celebrates each Saint with their story and a custom cocktail recipe. You already know names like Joe Louis, Della Reese, and Nat King Cole. Others you will meet for the first time, and their stories are just as compelling. Together, these “Saints” create a vivid picture of old Detroit and a community that suffered but still found a way to thrive.

About the Author

Alice Randall is a New York Times bestselling author, songwriter, screenwriter, and educator. Born in Detroit, she shares the city’s history through her writing and a course she teaches at Vanderbilt University. Her song, “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl),”  recorded by Trisha Yearwood, went to #1 on the Country Music charts. Randall won the NAACP Image Award and the Phillis Wheatley Prize for her writing. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Black Bottom Saints is her seventh book.

Related Events & Experiences

African American Live Museum

Saturday, June 26, 2021, 2:00-4:00 pm
Main Library – 111 Library Street NE
Due to the weather, this event will now take place indoors at GRPL’s Main Library.

Watch some of the most important figures in African American history come to life as they share their life stories, struggles, and accomplishments. Portrayed by actors from New Hope Baptist Church, learn more about the notable figures featured in Black Bottom Saints. 

Please note: The cast does not interact with viewers. They are like animated statues. They tell their stories, but do not answer questions or engage in conversations. If a personality stares straight ahead and does not speak, you are not being ignored. The cast member is only waiting until more people gather.

GR Reads: The Movies – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Wednesday, July 21, 2021, 7:00 pm
Wealthy Theatre – 1130 Wealthy St SE

Ma Rainey was one of the most famous and prolific recording artists of the early 20th century. Known as the “Mother of the Blues,” this film follows Ma Rainey as tensions rise with her band, manager, and girlfriend. Featuring performances by Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman in his award-winning final role.

Please follow COVID safety measures. Tickets are $3 with valid GRPL library card. Buy tickets at the door or online at Use promo code: GRREADS2021.

Black History Tour of Downtown Grand Rapids

Walking tour available on demand using the GR Walks app.
Download the app from, the Apple Store, or Google Play.

Discover local Black history with this walking tour of downtown Grand Rapids. City Commissioner Joe Jones narrates the tour, which starts in Lyon Square. The self-guided tour is approximately two miles. It stops at eleven points of interest. Learn the history of local African American leadership, culture, and community.

DGRI and GR Walks organized and produced this tour.

If you like this book, you may also enjoy: