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
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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"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."


Winner of the International Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society Book Award 

Winner of the Outstanding Book Award from the National Association of Black Journalists 

Winner of the 2021 Library of Virginia's People's Choice Award —Nonfiction 

2021 Bronze Medal Winner of the Reader's Choice Book Award—Nonfiction/Memoir  

One of Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of the Year 

One of Smithsonian Magazine's "Best History Books of 2020" 

One of Good Morning America's "7 Books to Read for Presidents Day," by Alexis Coe 

One of Parade's Best Memoirs to Read this Year 

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328604392
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,133,640
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

BETTYE KEARSE is a writer and retired pediatrician. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Boston Herald, TIME Magazine, River Teeth, Zora, and the anthology Black Lives Have Always Mattered, among other places. The Other Madisons received the International Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Book Award for Nonfiction, Autobiography. Her research for The Other Madisons was covered in the Washington Post. She lives in New Mexico.  

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Mandy 5

1 The new griotte 11

2 The box 27

Mandy 35

3 Family stories 37

4 Footsteps 51

5 Living history 63

6 Destination jim crow 73

7 The dentist 93

Mandy 103

8 Beads 107

9 The castle 117

10 The museum 125

11 "Visiting" 133

Mandy 153

12 Sanctuaries 155

Mandy 163

13 In search of the president's son 165

14 Elizabeth 173

15 Free! 183

16 Gramps 199

17 New york memorial 209

18 The plantation's tale 213

Mandy 227

19 History, heritage, memory 231

Mandy 243

Acknowledgments 245

Image Credits 249

Resources 251

Discussion Questions 255

Q&A with Bettye Kearse 259

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