For those of you who know me and my journey with Half-Truths, you will appreciate that when I heard of Bettye Kearse's book, The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family, I knew I had to read it. Since I am way behind on my to-be-read books, I was fortunate to receive a review copy from Recorded Books. See the giveaway notes at the bottom to see how you can receive a copy of this rich memoir.
I heard Bettye speak at a webinar sponsored by the Charlotte chapter of the Women's National Book Association. After I heard Bettye's compelling talk I reached out to her and we met virtually and have exchanged emails and phone calls. I am thrilled to share her book with you, as well as a few thoughts about her writing journey. Let's just stay that I'm not alone in investing over fifteen years into a project I love.
Bettye visits the Elmina Castle in Ghana and imagines what it was like for the enslaved men and women who were stolen, separated from their families, and kept in bondage. Her description of these atrocious events is complete. 150-300 women stood pressed together in "rooms of deep sorrow." They were marched through a "gate of no return" to a slave ship. "The ocean wiped away their footprints."
When Bettye comes back to the states, she visits the National Black Wax Museum in Baltimore. On board a replica of a slave ship, Bettye puts herself into Mandy's horrific experiences of possibly being raped, sick, and close to death. She wonders if she would have made it to the New World.
There is much more to this book: Bettye's conversations with her mother over the nature of the sexual relationships between owners and slaves (her mother called it "visiting"), Bettye's first encounter with Jim Crow when she was five-years-old, the racism she still experiences, Bettye's pride for her family and other enslaved Blacks, how she feels holding the picture of her great-great-great grandmother--the first ancestor she could see.
This is an important book and one you won't quickly forget.
IN HER OWN WORDS
In one of our conversations, Bettye told me that the hardest part of writing this memoir was what to do with the "rich material" she had received from her mother. Initially, Bettye wrote the book the way her mother wanted, as a record of their family stories. Then, she realized that her story wasn't unique to her and a mentor recommended that she write it as fiction; but that came out "flat." Her mentor then suggested Bettye write a memoir. Inserting her own feelings was difficult, but that process breathed life into the narrative. "It was very rewarding to discover my purpose by writing this as a memoir and realizing that I had a message for others."
AUDIO and VIDEOS
The narrator, Karen Chilton, has a beautiful reading voice and immersed me in the memoir. Sometimes I forgot that it wasn't Bettye speaking. Here is an audio snippet to show you how well Chilton reads the book:
Here is a video sequence narrated by Bettye and other historians.