Today I have a review of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President’s Black Family by Bettye Kearse. A big thank you to Caitlin Hamilton Summie for the gifted book.
Hey, it’s a Harper cameo, too! 🐱 She photobombed this picture session.
For years, Bettye Hearse’s family passed down the family credo, “Always remember- you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president.”
Kearse researched her ancestors and the history of slavery in this country. But it wasn’t easy. The story that had been shared with her and passed down through generations of her family revealed a path filled with roadblocks.
Kearse is a griotte, a family storyteller, and she has succeeded here with an illuminating, fascinating, heartrending, and powerful portrayal of her family. She has recorded the living, breathing oral history of her family, and it’s a must-read. It is a must-discuss. It’s a book everyone should be talking about. It’s well-written, compelling, and timely. Please read it.
I received a gifted copy.
About the Book:
“A Roots for a new generation, rich in storytelling and steeped in history.”
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“A compelling saga that gives a voice to those that history tried to erase…Poignant and eye-opening, this is a must-read.”
In The Other Madisons, Bettye Kearse—a descendant of an enslaved cook and, according to oral tradition, President James Madison—shares her family story and explores the issues of 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, and half-sister, 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 to be a source of pride, but for her, it echoed with abuses of slavery, including rape and incest.
Confronting those abuses, 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. When Bettye tried to confirm the information her ancestors had passed down, she encountered obstacles at every turn.
Part personal quest, part testimony, part historical correction, The Other Madisons is the saga of an extraordinary American family told by a griotte in search of the whole story.