The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family

The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family

By:  Bettye Kearse

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In The Other Madisons, Bettye Kearse—a descendant of a slave named Coreen and, according to oral tradition, President James Madison—finally shares her family story, exploring legacy, race, and the powerful consequences of telling the whole truth.

For thousands of years, West African griots (men) and griottes (women) have recited the stories of their people. Without this tradition Bettye Kearse would not have known that she is a descendant of President James Madison and his slave Coreen. In 1990, Bettye became the eighth-generation griotte for her family. Their credo—“Always remember—you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president”—was intended as a source of pride, but for her, it echoed with abuses of slavery and rape.

Bettye embarked on a journey of discovery—of her ancestors, the nation, and herself. She learned that wherever African slaves walked, recorded history silenced their voices and buried their footsteps: beside a slave-holding fortress in Ghana; below a federal building in New York City; and under a brick walkway at James Madison’s Virginia plantation. And when Bettye tried to confirm the information her ancestors passed down, she encountered obstacles at every turn.

Part personal quest, part testimony, part historical correction, The Other Madisons is the story of an extraordinary American family by a griotte determined to tell the whole story.

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  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328604392

  • ISBN-10: 132860439X

  • Pages: 272

  • Price: $28.00

  • Publication Date: 03/24/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 12

Bettye Kearse
Author

Bettye Kearse

BETTYE KEARSE is a retired pediatric physician and geneticist. Her commentary "Our Family Tree Searches for Branches" appeared in the Boston Herald. "Destination Jim Crow" was published in River Teeth, listed as notable in The Best American Essays 2014, and nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. "Mammy Warriors" is included in the anthology Black Lives Have Always Mattered. Her research for The Other Madisons was recently covered in the Washington Post. She lives in New Mexico.
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  • reviews

    "A fascinating root-seeking odyssey. In this poignant search for a lost tie to a founding father, Kearse reckons with the equivocal link between DNA and family and illuminates the work of racial repair confronting us all." 

    —Alondra Nelson, author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome 

     

    "Inheriting the role of griotte—family storyteller—from her mother, Bettye Kearse set out to preserve and deepen the knowledge about her family that oral tradition traces back to President Madison and an African slave named Mandy. As she travels to Virginia, Portugal, and Ghana, she shares with readers her research, her reflections, and her poignant emotional responses to her family's past. Her quest, at once personal and historical, is both engrossing and very moving."    

    —Gail Pool, author of Lost Among the Baining: Adventure, Marriage, and Other Fieldwork   

     

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328604392

  • ISBN-10: 132860439X

  • Pages: 272

  • Price: $28.00

  • Publication Date: 03/24/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 12

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