Bettye Kearse – The Other Madisons

Bettye Kearse - The Other Madisons

It was a pleasure to talk to Bettye Kearse about her fascinating book, The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family.

In the African tradition of a griotte -- the person in the family responsible for handing down the story of their family -- Betty Kearse has written a compelling book about her ancestors. Her family’s credo “Always remember—you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president."

With that in mind, she has spent years researching her family's links to the 4th President of the United States, James Madison. Through generations they have held fast to the belief that they are Madisons. It is a part of their heritage, part of their memories of the family, There are documents that lend depth to this heartrending story -- including census records, photos, and a document for an 1834 bill of sale for Elizabeth Madison, the author's great, great grandmother. It all begins with the story of Mandy, a girl who was taken from the shores of West Africa and transported on a slave ship to the United States. This story needed to be told and Dr. Kearse (she is a retired pediatrician) took on the role of griotte. It was surely her destiny -- because she is a fine writer.

After over twenty years of research and visiting visiting family historical sites in America and in Africa, she has written a book that speaks of the strength and endurance of the African-Americans who were once enslaved. This book is one that can help bridge the pain of those years to the future where the color of ones skin is no longer a subject. Her success as a pediatrician, and now author, speaks of the tenacity and intelligence that has been enriched our country.

People of all colors should read this book and talk about how the years of being enslaved -- having papers that documented ownership of one person by another -- can still hurt after all these years. 

Joy on Paper is a program for writers and those who dream of writing. For all African-Americans, let this book inspire you to preserve your families memorabilia and for you to start writing the book that will honor the memory of your ancestors and to act as a shining star to light the way for future generations to follow.

I am looking forward to the documentary that is being made about this book.

Dr. Kearse received International Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society Book Award for Best Non-Fiction Autobiography. 

About the Author

Dr. Bettye Kearse is a pediatrician and essayist. She received a B.A. in Genetics from the University of California at Berkeley, a Ph.D. in Biology from New York University, and an M.D. from Case Western Reserve University.

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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