“We were not ‘other’ there; we were only there.” —James “Ziggy” Johnson
by Erik Loyer
Text by Alice Randall, excerpted from her book Black Bottom Saints
Music by Erik Loyer
Made with Stepworks Studio
Alice Randall’s novel Black Bottom Saints mixes fact and fiction to illuminate the storied past of Detroit's famous Black Bottom neighborhood.
Told through the fictionalized words of real-life gossip columnist Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson, the story follows a structure inspired by Catholic Saints Day Books as it traces the stories of 52 notable Black figures from the region — musicians, doctors, athletes, activists, and many more. After seeing the storytelling potential of Stepworks, Randall invited Erik Loyer to create a visual poem inspired by one of the people profiled in the book.
The result is “The Ring Bearer,” a meditation on the “circles and circles, and circles” of exclusivity in Black life as Ziggy experienced them in his relationship with Dr. Alf Thomas. Thomas owned two hospitals in Detroit as well as his own private island where he hosted lavish events for the community’s Black movers and shakers — a place where, as Randall puts it, “everything is beautiful and everything that is not serving or performing is Black.” And yet, even in this utopian world, Ziggy finds that the markers of class and status still have their say.
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