A Roots for a New Generation

For thousands of years, West African griots (men) and griottes (women) have recited the stories of their people. Without this tradition I would not have known that I am a descendant of the enslaved cook Coreen and her owner, and half-brother, President James Madison.

My family’s credo “Always remember—you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president,” has guided us for 200 years, but, for me, it echoed with the abuses of slavery. Including rape and incest. So, in 1990, when I became the family griotte, I decided to confront those abuses. As I traced my ancestors’ footsteps, I learned that slaves possessed hope and inner strength, by which they survived, and talents, by which they contributed mightily to America. Then they passed down these same qualities to their descendants.

My book will inspire those descendants to use our inner strengths and talents not only to fulfill our hopes but to make contributions in all arenas of human endeavor. Learn more...


National Association of Black Journalists Outstanding Book Award 2020

International Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society Book Award for Best Non-Fiction Autobiography

2021 Bronze Medal Winner of the Readers' Choice Book Award--Nonfiction/Memoir

Library of Virginia People's Choice Nonfiction Award

Marsha M. Greenlee History Award given by the Afro American History and Genealogical Society


The Other Madisons marks the culmination of Kearse’s 30-year investigation into not only her own family history, but that of other enslaved and free African Americans whose voices have been silenced over the centuries.

Smithsonian Magazine

A richly detailed, nuanced, and poignant story—part memoir and part social history—that places the dual legacy of slavery and sexual violence at the center of America’s founding.

The Progressive

A descendent of James Madison’s brother, the only living relative of the author of the Bill of Rights, refuses to submit to a DNA test. This standoff is not unprecedented in presidential history, from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings to William Harding and Nan Britton, but sooner or later, whether through ancestry.com or a more amenable descendent, the truth eventually comes out.

Alexis Coe

Good Morning America

Astonishing… In extraordinary times, as statues fall, Bettye Kearse has written an extraordinary book. It contains lessons for all Americans… Powerful… Seeking to validate and enlarge the black Madisons’ saga, to tell a nuanced story until now completely unknown, [Kearse] succeeds richly…Leaving her much-celebrated white ancestors in the background, she restores the black Madisons to history. They are resilient Americans, second to none.

Michael Henry Adams

The Guardian

A Roots for a new generation, rich in storytelling and steeped in history.

Kirkus Reviews


About The Author

I was born in Tucson, Arizona and grew up in Northern California. I have 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. My husband and I have a daughter, a son-in-law, and two grandchildren. Read more...