Jul 21, 2021
Our ancestors are still a part of us. Their qualities don’t die with them but are passed down through the generations. And it’s important for us to tell their stories. As the descendant of both enslaved people and an American president, Bettye Kearse is especially committed to understanding the complicated history of her family and how it shapes who she is today.
Bettye is her family’s oral historian or griotte and author of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President’s Black Family, a memoir that both uncovers her personal family history and pays homage to millions of silenced, invisible African Americans. Bettye spent 30 years researching her family history, traveling to West Africa, Portugal and Virginia to walk in the footsteps of her enslaved ancestors, honoring their extraordinary resilience and sense of hope.
On this episode of Wickedly Smart Women, Bettye joins Anjel to discuss the West African tradition of oral history and describe her responsibility to make sure her ancestors are not forgotten. She explores the imbalance of power that led to the rape of many enslaved women, sharing the experience of her 4th- great-grandmother Coreen with President James Madison. Listen in for Bettye’s insight on the inner strength that enslaved people passed on to their descendants and get inspired to celebrate their contributions in every area of human endeavor!
How Bettye became her family’s oral historian or griotte and what that entails
The West African tradition of oral history that dates back thousands of years
Bettye’s responsibility to make sure her family stories are not lost and her ancestors not forgotten
When Bettye started hearing the stories of her ancestors’ enslavement
When Bettye began questioning the fact that she was descended from President James Madison and an enslaved cook named Coreen
The imbalance of power that led to the rape of many enslaved women
Bettye’s extraordinary journey to walk in the footsteps of her enslaved ancestors and get an idea of how these women shaped who she is
The story of Bettye’s 5th-great-grandmother Mandy’s enslavement and purchase
The inner strength and sense of hope that enslaved people passed on to their descendants
Bettye’s call to celebrate the contributions of enslaved people and their ancestors
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