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The Other Madisons: The Lost History of A President’s Black Family
In Conversation with Bettye Kearse and Cecile Lipworth

The Other Madisons
For thousands of years, West African griots and griottes 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: his 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.

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 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 determined to tell the whole story.


Bettye Kearse is a retired pediatric physician and geneticist. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Mental Floss, the Boston Herald, River Teeth, and Black Lives Have Always Mattered, and was listed as notable in The Best American Essays. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Cecile Lipworth is a passionate change-maker, recognized as a leader and catalyst in movement building, supporting social change on a global scale. She is the host of the weekly feminist radio show, Brave Space. Cecile consults with state-wide and international women-led organizations harnessing her expertise in movement building, event producing, fundraising, marketing and communications to support their work.

Jul 15, 2021 06:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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