Skip to main content

tv   Bettye Kearse The Other Madisons  CSPAN  May 28, 2020 7:06am-7:49am EDT

7:06 am
>> host: your wonderful book will add to that. i remind the audience, go to the online store, order the book. hope to have you on campus, a wonderful experience, hope to have you back, thank you for your questions and joining us today. i remind everyone this will be live on youtube, everyone have a great day. >> the president with public affairs, available in paperback and e-book presents biographies of every president organized by their rankings by noted historians from best to worst and features perspectives into the lives of our nation's chief executives and leadership style. visit our website,
7:07 am order your copy today wherever books and e-books are sold. >> welcome to the atlanta history center, i am virginia prescott your host for these talks. i'm speaking to bettye kearse about her book "the other madisons: the lost history of a president's black family". you can purchase the book directly from a cappella books. there is a link in the chat box to the right of your screen and there is a link on the atlanta history center website. we invite you to submit your questions for the q and a and i will try to get to as many of them as allowed. bettye kearse is in genesis stand oscar-nominated essayist. the other -- "the other madisons: the lost history of a president's black family" is
7:08 am
her first book and follows a 30 request to confirm her lineage. kirkus calls it a roots for a new generation. thank you for being with us. >> most of us grew up thinking of james madison as the fourth president, one of the founders of our country, wrote the first draft of the u.s. constitution and bill of rights. what did you think? what were you told about him growing up? >> i was told what everybody else was, an important figure in american history and was also told he was my great great great grandfather through his relationship, one of the enslaved cooks, the name correen.
7:09 am
>> host: and reminded of this. remember you are a madison. you come from african slaves in a president. what does that mean to you as a child. >> to me it sets clear expectations. it was intended to be a force of installation. i was reminded, my family history and also saves -- slaves in my family, so there was a lot to live up to. a lot was expected. >> host: your mother carried stories of your lineage told by her father and his father, both had been enslaved to. eight generations going back to this african woman who was kidnapped from her home country and brought to the united states.
7:10 am
this was the tradition in the feminine, tell us about that tradition and its role in your stu family? >> the tradition goes back family thousands of years to before the birth of christ. the reels are men in the gulags are women who maintain an entire culture, history of those cultures, the values forever. primarily, the tradition of history. >> host: so this was carried throughout your family and your mother told the story to some
7:11 am
others, a slide presentation she gave to historical and genealogical organizations in the 1980s. the black madison's lecture circuit. he in effect handed this role to you when she gave you the book as you call it. what was in the box? >> guest: all kinds of things. birth certificates, and death certificates, marriage licenses, lots of photographs, hand stitching, it was a very fancy sort of lens. there were slave sentences, newspaper articles.
7:12 am
they were gathered and put together. between family members. >> host: what did it mean to receive this box? >> a big responsibility. warned me that this was going to be my responsibility and to be responsible for making sure the stories didn't die and passed on through generations. just overwhelmed, not sure how we should handle it.
7:13 am
a little story that contributes to my concern and that is my mother is the one that creates the box. before that time, my grandfather, my great-grandfather kept documents in the family bible. my grandfather lost it during the move from one small texas town to another and was devastated. i didn't know if i should make sure that -- to put them away. or should i tell these stories too many people who were interested, i decided on the latter, and not just my family
7:14 am
stories, they are the stories of enslaved people and these people represented other african-americans. there was persistence and love that was important to share. >> host: i want to hear more about the sense of ambivalence and this set you on the path of discovery, many miles cover, many obstacles and a lot of emotional freight. they give it pride and meeting and strength. it was a really hard life. i would like your feelings about what it meant for you because you have more ambivalence about being connected to this family. >> guest: i did.
7:15 am
i came away -- liked it that way -- during the civil war, the black power movement and very important. i felt licensed to take on some of the more uncomfortable sides and not try to hide them head on. this was different from the way my mother looked at it. she was very proud of being at the center and i think in some way reassured by having something special in her family
7:16 am
background that set her apart those who were experiencing the difficult things about being black in america. >> host: grew up during jim crow, very strict and to reiterate if they have questions for bettye kearse you can ask them in the q and a section on the bottom of your screen and we will try to get to them. you were alluding to hitting these things head on and this begins with mandates, this woman kidnapped from africa as a teenager, purchased by james madison senior, he sexually assaulted her, she bore his child correen and james junior, the man who became president raped correen who bore his
7:17 am
child, there's rape and incest too. there mother called it courageous of you to have that conversation head on about what that means. can you talk about that conversation? >> guest: i remember this pretty well. i remember sitting on the floor with a bunch of papers around me. did she really recognize? i called and said did you know president madison was called a rapist? and she said really? i said yes. what they were, she was quite uncomfortable with that term. her term that she preferred was
7:18 am
dividend. >> host: what did that mean to frame it like that? >> guest: to listen to me? >> host: either. i'm interested in that dynamic. it is such a part of what you confronted, not just finding historical records but your own family, the history they carried with them. in a way you were betting at a sacred cow. >> i was the first to take up the bat, not just my mother but my grandfather who passed down the story using the term visiting and never explained to her what was meant and my mother would go to someone
7:19 am
else, they were very uncomfortable talking about what happened in a straightforward way, angry at the approach. those kinds of questions. >> host: you were going to get at the unvarnished truth. the official history, james madison did not have any children with his wife, dolly madison was a widow and had a son. the story your family told for generations details parts of their lives in the life of james and correen's son jim who was sold off as a teenager at dolly's urging. can you give us a recap? it is a life we are talking about, a sense of what you
7:20 am
heard? >> host: about jim's life? >> guest: jim's life. i'm interested in that. >> guest: jim was madison's son and the time he was born, came to live with them as montpelier and dolly assigned correen to be his wet nurse and the story goes jim was on one breast and the baby whose name was victoria on the other breast and over the years, they became very good friends. they were in their teens, they fell in love with each other,
7:21 am
and promptly told jim in tennessee, never thought his mother or father or victorio - >> host: a heartbreaking story. you decided to find these unnamed, unreported what happened to jimmy coming in 1992 made the first of many trips to montpelier, the madison family plantation that is now a historic site, to africa, to several states. like so many people who are descended from slaves, a lot of trails go forward. there are real breakthrough moments, would you rather share those? >> in terms of finding jim? >> host: whatever you discovered.
7:22 am
so many little gems you are wandering through, how to find more about your family. >> guest: often they are not reported. what happened to jim. tried to find out who purchased him, where exactly he is going and the trail that picks up with his son emmanuel. so there is documentation of him, but now who he was.
7:23 am
famous in tennessee, moved there. we hoped to trace back from emmanuel to jim but talking about me and my cousins, one of my cousins past, three of us doing the search together. my cousin, sean harley, came across in 1830 slaves census, the man he found was not a slave. a number of reasons we believe chadrack could have been jim.
7:24 am
i am trying to do - somehow verify the chadrack, he was born in virginia around the same time, originally owned by the same family. first name chadrack, they chose the name madison. >> host: which speaks to always remember you are a madison. katrina williams says thank you for writing this important book. what are your thoughts about those trying to rewrite the narrative around slavery, attempts to portray slavery as indentured servitude or exclude from school history books
7:25 am
entirely? >> guest: they are deniers. in some ways not unlike laura who didn't want to talk about the painful parts, a shameful part of american history. it happened, this country wouldn't have been what it is without millions of slaves. >> guest: that comes across so clearly. >> host: the role of dependency on slavery not just as an institution but as an emotional support, user support in other ways. you researched the origins of the slave trade, the twisted moral code that was adopted to rationalize the business, to
7:26 am
nigeria and ghana. why take on these physical and emotional experiences? what did they add to your sense of the family story? >> guest: for me they helped me understand who i am. i grew up in a very solid, low class environment. i had no idea what my enslaved ancestors go through but felt i was missing part of myself, looked for mandy and all the places you name, i looked for correen as montpelier, just a
7:27 am
profound experience. in so doing, i got an inkling of what my ancestors had gone through and how they helped their experience and helped shape me and learned about their incredible strength, inner strength, since of balance, since of hope in the challenge and values they passed down, this is true for every slave family, not just mine. >> host: if you have questions for bettye kearse you can read them in the q and a segment of the screen. we will get to as many as possible. it trying to understand
7:28 am
depravity, to confirm the family lineage and not just through historic record and dna and enlisted the help of doctor bruce jackson. you approach the national society of madison family descendents about authenticating your family's dna. where did that leave you? >> guest: it looked like it was going to be very promising. doctor jackson emphasized again and again be careful with genealogy. if you do that to the wrong person, you can say i told you. the national society of madison family descendents did identify one man with appropriate
7:29 am
genealogy who initially was willing to participate in the dna study. what happened was shortly after that was a big article about research in the washington post and he just didn't want to get involved in the brouhaha so he backed off and since then i haven't really pursued that. i have been feeling more and more that the dna -- the proof that other non-african-american families -- that is not really important. >> host: i know you have been
7:30 am
asked many times, would it matter to you, if you did get proof that you were descended from james madison, you came to an interesting place with that. i would love to hear more about that. >> guest: it would be great for my book. it is about much more than marketing. it is about understanding who you are and what your values are, honoring and respecting the slaves, knowing that you inherited a lot and you have an opportunity to contribute just as much as they did to this country. it is about knowing who you are.
7:31 am
>> host: do you have any sense of the role of faith or religion in the life of your slave ancestors who must've been strong people inside and out, how faith informs your own life. >> guest: my enslaved ancestors were strong christians, most slaves were, a sense of community, an important component to our values. they passed down to all of us including myself. an important part of my daily sense of who i am.
7:32 am
>> host: thank you for sharing your family story. have you been in contact with other enslaved families of our founding fathers? famously the sally hemmings family, tell me about that. >> guest: on two locations, one at the university of virginia. i can't remember exactly, there was a symposium of slavery at the university. james monroe, thomas jefferson, descendents of slaves, some of whom are owned by the university and later just last year i was at montpelier, on
7:33 am
another panel. at that one, jefferson and washington. and saving contact. >> host: you build so many relationships in this journey, several with people worked at montpelier and many others. the most elite of elite americans, the father of the constitution, student of the indictment and preserving the sacred fire of liberty, at the very foundation of america's if those in this is the man who came up with the political compromise for enslaved africans as 3 fifths human. you do so much to flesh out the
7:34 am
people in your slave descendent mind. how do you make sense of these contradictions in james madison. the other question is does it matter who he was? >> guest: does it matter who he was. it does matter, hard to balance out the trends, it would be great if he had freed slaves and lived up to the ideal, but he didn't. he didn't free a single slave. >> host: i cut you off.
7:35 am
>> guest: george washington freed slaves that were in fact his own. he did friesen slaves -- thomas jefferson freed slaves who were his direct descendents but james madison - slave billy went to philadelphia. a northerner knowing that eventually or presuming eventually he would be freed and he was freed. so like jefferson and all of
7:36 am
them, having all of these lofty ideals. they probably said that is the way we do things here. and didn't really want to flesh out the wrong -- as far as acting on it, it is very hard. >> guest: >> host: what positive or negative reactions of you received for your book? >> guest: so far i only had positive reaction. >> host: i am guessing there
7:37 am
will be controversy, the dna test for sally having -- sally hemmings. >> guest: you mentioned speaking as workshops, re-examining historical narratives, how they are formed and who is included. there is a real history movement that wants to contextualize how we remember whether it is instituting the story of sally hemmings at monticello or contextualizing civil war monuments, how would you like your family story to be reflected at montpelier? >> guest: in 1992, this was six
7:38 am
years before dna proved the hemmings family, they were ahead of the game already because the day that i arrived, the first time, i saw another side which was the south kitchen. they were looking for the truth, trying to learn who the slaves were, what they did, how they played a role in james madison's life in montpelier and what their contributions were to the country. they have continued to do that. they have always been supportive, interested in my story. they want the whole story.
7:39 am
correen's name is on the wall where other slaves are listed. i was involved in the distinction of color. to james madison. that is something i feel all americans should see because it puts the role of slaves in perspective. talks about their role at montpelier, how they were dealt this in the constitution. the fact that they were people and not just commodities. i like to say that there were millions of slaves there for
7:40 am
millions of individuals. the visit to montpelier encourages that. >> host: what does it mean to have a more inclusive picture of american history? >> guest: it is the whole story. the real story. it is the voices that weren't heard. they left their mark everywhere from new york city, build a wall, to boston and every where i lived, the mark of a slave there. >> host: question, the story of
7:41 am
your family is amazing, your message of what it is like to be black in america, what would you like people, women in particular to take away from your story? >> guest: women in particular? >> host: what would you like people, and women in particular, to take away from your story? >> guest: as i was writing the book i couldn't imagine black women reading this book and seeing that slaves were strong. i hope that they would pass down those same qualities until their children about those qualities. there is a chapter in the book called visiting and that is the chapter about me.
7:42 am
one specific message i wanted to convey, rape could happen in any setting. one setting was marriage. i want to portray that to all women, the possibility of being sexually abused. >> guest: there's a lot for readers to dig into about the sexualization of african-american women. >> guest: it is a tough chapter. little girls found a likelihood they could be raped and there
7:43 am
was nothing they could do about it. >> host: when i think of the racial divide that persists i wonder if the interconnectedness of families can be part of the healing. i don't want to suggest taking vulnerable women as sex partners should be celebrated but i wonder if the denial of common humanity that is even now shockingly present among us can be subverted by descendents coming together as a family. your thought? >> guest: that was a long question. >> host: it was a long question but a really good question. they say that it disappeared so i can't reread it. the interconnectedness is part of the healing instead of the dividing of the way we think, i hope i'm not putting words in
7:44 am
the mouth -- >> guest: the family? the miracle came back up. sometimes wonder if the interconnectedness of families can be part of the healing. i don't suggest taking vulnerable women as sex partners should be celebrated but i wonder if the denial of common humanity shockingly present among us can be subverted by descended coming together as a family. >> guest: it will take work and outreach. i have the pleasure -- the issue -- one of madison's - she
7:45 am
has shared with me - she views the history the same way, she believes we should all come together, the whole truth of family backgrounds and recognize the healing of coming together. >> host: how do you feel about president madison now? any different from before your research? >> guest: i am allowing myself to be angry with him.
7:46 am
it is only different where i have authority on that. he knew it was wrong and he used one of his enslaved women. he didn't prevent dolly from selling jim. i lost that connection to an ancestor that i want to know. i allow myself to be disappointed. >> guest: so many that i can look forward to. a slave poisoning his master, the grit and fortitude it took for newly emancipated slaves to establish themselves.
7:47 am
your great-grandfather max in 1889 over the right to vote and so much more, the journey you have gone on to find out about. before we close, there are so many names left out of the official record, you want to put out and share with us tonight. >> guest: mandy was the first african ancestor in america. we talked about jim, mentioned emmanuel, jim's son, they had a ton of children and they were
7:48 am
fortunate to stay to gather, some died or sold off but that family, that generation, my great-grandfather, shelby and giles and young and james and john. i could go on and name all eight of them. my beloved grandfather and the rest of us, wonderful family. >> host: appreciate that. we got a lovely note from connie graft. >> guest: it doesn't matter. >> guest: she says this is a real story and i'm proud, i
7:49 am
would love to see bettye kearse and other descendents come together at montpelier, she said i will never be mad at you. all is resolved in that part of the world. thank you for joining us. a real pleasure. >> guest: thank you for having me. >> host: thank you for tuning in. we will be airing an edited version on second thought on may 15th. her new novel on tuesday may 12th. to talk about her new mom were called stray. and and thank you again. >> c-span has unfiltered coverage of congress, the white


1 Favorite

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on