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tv   Bettye Kearse The Other Madisons  CSPAN  May 29, 2020 2:12pm-2:55pm EDT

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radical and alex and american summer, watch book tv tonight and over the weekend on c-span2. >> the presidents from public affairs, available now in paperback and e-book. and by every president and organized by the ranking by notice historians from best to worst, and features perspectives into the life of our nation's chief executive and leadership styles. visit our website,, to learn more about each president and his story and feature, order your copy today wherever books and e-books are sold. >> welcome to the atlanta history virtual talk series, virginia prescott, and your host for these talks. and tonight i'm speaking to betty about the other medicines,
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the lost history of presidents black family, you can purchase it directly in the link in the chat box to the right of your screen and the link provided on the atlanta history center website. as betty and i are talking, we invite you to commit your question to the q&a portion of your screen and i'll try to get to them as time allows. doctor betty kirsten is a retired physician and denominated us yet, the other madison is her first book and it follows a nearly 30 year quest to confirm her lineage, the reviews call it group for new generation, thank you so much for being with us. >> i'm very happy to be part of this program. >> most of us grew up thinking of james mattis 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
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think or what were you told about him going out? >> i was told what everybody else was. he was an important figure in american history but i was also told that he was my great, great great grandfather through his relationship. so he's my ancestor. >> remind us of this, always remember you come from african slaves in a president. what did that mean to you as a child. >> to me and set some clear expectation i was reminded and i
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also slaves in my family and that was a lot to live up to, lot was expected of me. >> and your mother, she carried stories every lineage told to her by her father and they both have been enslaved and going back to the african women who was kidnapped in her home country and brought to the united states, this is the tradition in the feminine, tell us a little bit about that tradition and the role in your family. >> the tradition goes back thousands of years, probably before christ and they are women who maintained an entire culture
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and the history of the culture of the values, forever, primarily it's a tradition of history. >> so incurious throughout your family and your mother, she told the story to some others that there was a slide presentation that she gave the historical and genealogical organization in the 1980s, you and your brother called it the black madison lecture circuit, in effect she handed this role to you when she gave you the box as you call in the book, what was in the box? >> in the box was all kinds of things, there were for certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, lots and loss of photographs, my
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great aunt's amazing hand stitching -- i don't know if you know what that is, it's a very fancy way of embellishing there were slaves in newspaper articles, anything that can be gathered and put together. i neglected to save the letters. >> what did it mean for you to receive this box. >> it was a big responsibility, my mother had warned me will,
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this is some days going to be my responsibility to take care of this box and its contents into be the one responsible to make sure the stories didn't die and were passed on through generations. so at certain times it was overwhelming and i'm not sure that's how i should handle it. i will tell you one little story that contributes to my concern and that is my mother is the one that created the box, before that time my grandfather, my great-grandfather kept their documents and whatever they could find inside a bible and my grandfather lost it during the move from texas town to another and he was devastated.
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so i did not know, had to make sure that did not happen again and i didn't know if i should put them away or should i tell the stories to as many people who are interested, i decided on the latter because there were so many important things, the stories around those things were so important, they were not just my family stories, there were stories of enslaved people and these people represented african-americans and there was a message of persistence and love that i thought was important to share. >> i want to hear a little bit more that you spoke of a sense of ambivalence, this set you on
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a path of discovery, many, many miles covered, many obstacles and a lot of emotional freight, your mother had a reservations for the madison family, they give her pride and meaning in strength for what had her been a hard life. i would love to hear your feelings about that, what it meant for you because you more ambivalence about being connected to this family. >> i did. i was born in the 60s so -- during the civil rights movement, the black movement and very importantly the wellness movement. so i felt licensed to take on the more uncomfortable side and
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not try to hide them and try to talk about them head on which is very different from when the way my mother looked at her she was very proud of madison and i think in some way reassured and comforted by having something special in her background that set her apart from those who were experiencing difficult parts of being black in america. i came along way. >> she grew up during jim crow, and to reiterate that people, if
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they have questions for doctor, you can ask them in the q&a, you can type them into the q&a section on the bottom of your screen and we will try to get to them. you were alluding to hitting these things had on and this begins with mandate, this woman kidnapped from africa as a teenager, purchased by james mattis senior, he sexually assaulted her, she wore his child karine was his name, the james junior the man who became president who borne his child, this is not only rape but there's incest in their and your mother called it courageous of you to have that conversation with her head on about what that means. can you talk a little bit about the conversation with her? >> i remember it pretty well, i was sitting on the floor with patrons around me and i was
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thinking that she really recognize what this was so i called her up and i said you know president madison was your father's rapist and she said really and i said yes, that's what they were and so she was quite uncomfortable with that term and her term that she preferred was debating. >> what do you think that meant for her to frame it like that. >> to call it that? or to live -- >> i'm interested in that dynamic because i think it's part of what you confronted, it was not just being able to find historical records but it was your own family, the history
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that they had carried with them and in a way you were batting at a sacred cow. >> i will refer to take out the bat. not just my mother but my grandfather who actually passed on the story and use that term and never explained to her what it meant and when my mother would go to somewhere else, they were very uncomfortable and talking about what actually happened in a straightforward way, they refused to talk about it, their angry when their approach with these questions. >> for you, will get the unvarnished truth about the parts of the saga that had gone
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unchallenged. the official history is a james mattis did not have any children with his life, the famous dolley madison, she was a widow and had assigned when they married. your story they detail part of their lives and the lives of jame and karine son jim who was sold off as a teenager, can you give us a little recap, it is complicated and it's a life but a sense of what you heard about his life. >> about jim's life. >> jim was not a sink and cream son, the time he was born when her nieces came to live with them amount your.
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and they assigned cream to be his wetnurse, the story goes that kareem put jim on one breast and jim on the other breast and they nurse together. over read the years they became very good friends and when they were in their teens they fell in love with each other. and she found out about it and she told jim and jim ended up in tennessee and he never thought his mother or his father or victoria. >> is a heartbreaking story in one of many heartbreaking. so you decided you will try to find the unnamed, unrecorded, what happened to jim and in 1992
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you made your first of many, many trips to montpelier. this is the madison family plantation that is a historic site, traveled to portugal, africa, other several states and so many people who are descended from slaves whose lives were not considered important enough to document, a lot of trails went cold but there was some real breakthrough moments for you, would you care to share any of those? >> in terms of finding jim? >> in terms of whatever you discovered along the way, there are so many little gems as you're wandering through this maze to try to find more about your family. >> it was certainly difficult because often names were not recorded and often families families were separated and is what's happened to jim. and i tried but it was very
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difficult to find out, where exactly he had gone and the trail picks up with his son emmanuel, there is documentation of him, it doesn't have his name but we know who he was, he was owned by jeff who was famous in tennessee and famous later -- we had hoped to trade back from emmanuel to jim but we did not quite do it. i'm saying we, i'm talking about me and my cousins, one of my
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cousins passed, three of us who were doing research together, one unfortunately passed but my cousin sean harley came across in 18 census -- the narrative because the man he found was not a slave, his name was madison and in no reason we believe that he could have been jim, now that is what i'm trying to do, somehow verify that chad was among them. he was born in virginia around the same time, they lived in the same place, they were injured were untrained originally owned by the same family, they had an unusual name, then when they
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were freed they chose the name madison. >> which speaks to remember, always remember you are a madison. >> yes. >> katrina williams says thank you for writing this important book, what are your thoughts regarding those trained to rewrite the narrative around slavery but he tends to portray slavery to exclude from the school history book entirely. >> they were deniers. somebody that is not unlike my aunt laura who did not want to talk about the painful parts . . .
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>> for me, they help many -- they help me to understand who i am. i grew up in a middle class, very protected environment, so i
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didn't have any idea of what my ancestors had gone through, and i just felt like i was missing part of myself. so i looked for them. i looked for all the places that you named. i literally walked in her footsteps, just a profound experience. in so doing, i got an inkling, just an inkling of what my ancestors had gone through and how they helped through their experiences, how they helped shape me, and i learned a lot about their incredible strength, their inner strength, their sense of balance, their sense of
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hope and of course the talents and values, you know, that they have that they passed down to all of their descendants. this is true for every family, not just mine. >> right. if you have questions for the doctor, you can write them in the q&a segment of your screen, down on the bottom of the screen. i would happy to get to as many as possible. so you just threw yourself in, all the way in, and trying to understand the depravity and inhumanity that landed mandy in the u.s. in these trips that you went on, but also to confirm the family lineage and the stories you had heard, not just through historic records, but also through dna and enlisted the help of dr. bruce jackson. >> yes. >> you approached the national society of madison family descendants about authenticating your family's dna, where did that lead you?
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>> well, it looked like it was going to be very promising. dr. jackson emphasized again and again, be careful with the genealogy because if you compare your dna to the wrong person, they can say oh, see i told you. you're not related. is the national society of madison family descendants did identify one man who had the appropriate genealogy and who initially was willing to participate in the dna study. what happened was that shortly after that, there was a big article about my research in the "washington post" and he just didn't want to get involved in the brouhaha, so he backed off,
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and since then i haven't really pursued that. and, you know, i've been feeling more and more that it's not -- that the dna and the -- you know, the proof that other non-african-american families -- i feel that's not what's important. >> i know you have been asked many many times like would it matter to you if you did get proof that you were descended from james madison, or that you were not? -- descendant from james madison or that you were not? you came to an interesting place with that. i would love to hear more about that. >> if i did, it would be great for my book, the marketing, but, you know, it is about much more than marketing. as i was saying, it is really
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about understanding who you are and what your values are and really, you know, honoring and respecting and knowing that you inherited a lot of their strengths and that, you know, you have an opportunity to contribute just as much as they did to this country. you know, it's not about -- it's about knowing who you are. >> let's see here, another question, doctor, do you have any sense of the role of faith or religion -- i'm sorry, what faith and religion played in the life of your slave ancestors? they must have been very strong people inside and out. how if at all has the faith informed your own view of life? >> well, my enslaved ancestors were strong christians, as most
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slaves were. you know, it helped form a sense of community and an important component to our values and those beliefs were passed down to all of us, including myself. it's an important part of my daily life and my daily sense of who i am. >> uh-huh. >> another question here, doctor, thank you for sharing your family's story. have you been in contact with other enslaved families of our founding fathers? of course famously the sally family's descendants. tell me more about that. >> yes, on two occasions actually. one was at the university of virginia, i would say maybe three years ago, i can't remember exactly, but there was a symposium on slavery at the
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university, and so i was on a discussion with descendants of james monroe and thomas jefferson and descendants of slaves who had worked at the university, some of whom were owned by the university, and then later, just last year, i was at mount pilliar, and with that one it was descendants of monroe, jefferson, and washington. >> uh-huh. >> so yes, i have met them and stayed in contact. >> you've built so many relationships in this journey, several with the people who work at mount pilliar and many many
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others. >> yes. >> this is the most elite of elite americans, called the father of the constitution, student of the enlightenment and preserving the sacred fire of liberty which is at the very foundation of americans national -- [inaudible]. yet this is also the man who came up with the political compromise to count enslaved africans as three fifths human. you do so much to flesh out the people that are in your slave descendant line. how do you make sense of these contradictions in james madison, you know, or my other question i guess could be does it even matter who he was? >> does it matter who he was? that's really a good question and a tough one. i mean, i think it does matter,
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you know. it's hard to balance out his faults with his strengths. it would be great if he had freed slaves and had lived up to the ideals, but he didn't. he didn't free a single slave. >> [inaudible]. >> right. >> i'm sorry, i cut you off. >> well, george washington freed the slaves who were in fact his own. he did not free his wife's slaves, but he did free some slaves. and thomas jefferson freed slaves who were probably his direct descendants. >> uh-huh. >> but james madison didn't free a single slave. the closest he came to that was
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his slave billy. he went with him to philadelphia and whose contract madison sold to a northerner knowing that eventually -- assuming anyway that eventually he would be freed and he was freed, but madison himself did not free him. so he, you know, like jefferson and all of them, they lived this kind of strange dichotomy of having all these lofty ideals, wonderful ideals, but not truly being able to live up to them. >> uh-huh. >> i think, you know, they probably said well, that's the way we do things here and, you know, didn't really want to --
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[inaudible] -- they knew it was wrong, but as far as acting on it, it was very hard for them to do. >> yeah. let's see here, what positive or negative reactions have you received from your book? >> well, so far -- [laughter] >> i've only had positive reactions. yeah. >> [inaudible]. >> there's probably going to be some controversy here. there are still people who are disputing the account and the dna test for sally's family. >> right, right. >> i mentioned building relationships at pilliar. you mentioned speaking at workshops and symposiums there, reexamining historical narratives and how they are formed and who is included. there is a real history movement that wants to contextualize how
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we remember, whether it is integrating that story of sally hemmings or here in georgia the atlanta history center has enacted in contextualizing loss cause civil war monuments. how would you like your family story to be reflected at mount pilliar. >> the first time i went there was in 1992 and this was six years before the dna proved that the hemmings family had so they were ahead of the game already because they were -- the day that i arrived, the first time, i was able to see -- [inaudible] -- and they were
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looking for the truth. they were trying to learn who the slaves were, what they did, how they played a role in james madison's life in mount pilliar and what their contributions were to the country, they were already doing that. they have continued to do that. my relationship with them, they are my friends. they have always been supportive and really interested in my story because they want the whole story. there are slaves' names listed on the wall. i was involved in the exhibit that's called a mere distinction of color, which is from james madis madison. that exhibit is something i feel all americans should see because
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it puts the role of slaves in perspective, and it talks about their role at mount pilliar, how they were dealt with in the constitution, the fact that they were people and not just commodities. i would like to say that there were millions of slaves, but there were millions of individuals. the exhibit encourages you to see that. >> what does that mean to have that fuller, more inclusive picture of american history? >> it is the whole story. it is the real store are --
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story. -- it is the real story. it is the voices that weren't heard. slaves weren't really able to speak for themselves, but they left their mark everywhere, from new york city, all over the country, in boston and everywhere i've lived, the mark of the slaves are there. >> question from jen p. the story of your family is amazing, and i love the book. your message of what it is like to be black in america -- [inaudible]. what would you like people and women in particular to take away from your story? >> women in particular? >> uh-huh, what would you like people and women in particular to take away from your story? >> as i was writing this book, kind of imagined black women
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reading this book and, you know, saying that [inaudible]. i hope that they would pass down those same qualities that would tell their own children about those qualities, but there's a chapter in the book that's called "visiting", and that's the chapter that's about -- [inaudible]. and one specific message i wanted to convey was that it could happen in any setting, and one setting was within marriage. so i did want to portray that to all women, that, you know,
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marriage doesn't necessarily offer a haven from the possibility of being sexually abused. >> there's a lot there for readers to dig into about, you know, the sexualization of african-american women which i think is really -- >> yeah, that's a tough chapter because, you know, little girls growing up, there was a likelihood that they could be raped and there was nothing that their mothers could do about it. >> we've got a question. when i think the racial divide that persists in these centuries, i sometimes wonder if the interconnectedness of families can be part of the healing. i don't want to of course suggest the abuse and taking of vulnerable women should be celebrated but i wonder if the denial of common humanity that
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is even now shockingly present among us can be subverted by descendants coming together as a family. your thoughts? >> that was a long question. >> it was a long question. [laughter] >> it was a really good question. >> yeah. >> it disappeared, so i can't re-read it. i think i can remember it, the interconnectedness as part of the healing, you know, instead of the way dividing we think of history -- the binary way. i hope i'm not putting words into her mouth. >> within familys? >> it came back up. the miracle of the moderators, it came back up. >> okay. >> -- sometimes wonder if the interconnectedness of families can be part of the healing. i don't of course suggest that the abuse and take of vulnerable women as sex partners should be celebrated but wonder if the denial of common humanity that
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is even now shockingly present among us can be subverted by descendants coming together as a family. terrific question. >> well, yes, it will take work and outreach. i've had the pleasure of meet ing connie graft, a great person, a descendant of one of madison's sisters. she has shared with me that she's glad she's my cousin. she used the history the same way -- she views the history the same way. you know, she believes that we should all come together and look at the whole truth of our
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family background. you know, recognize the healing that coming together will definitely bring. >> another question, do you feel -- how do you feel about president madison now? my difference than before your research? >> i'm allowing myself to be angry with him, yeah, yeah. it's only different in that i have clarity on that because he knew it was wrong, and yet he used one of his slave women. the other thing what he didn't do is he didn't prevent dolly from selling jim, so i've lost that connection to an ancestor
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that, you know, i want to know. so yeah, i'm allowing myself to be disappointed in him as well. >> we have to close it there. so many stories that people can look forward to, you know, one of a slave poisoning his master, of the grit and fortitude it took for newly emancipated slaves to establish themselves, your great grand father's role in an armed riot in cedar creek in 1889 over the right to vote and of course so much more about the journey that you go on to find all of those things out. i'm wondering, doctor, before we close, there are so many names left out of the official records of your family, names that you just want to put out there and share with us tonight, all the people listening. >> the first name i want to put
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out is mandy. mandy was my family's first african ancestor in america. we've talked about karim. we've talked about jim. we mentioned emmanuel who was one of jim's sons. emmanuel married elizabeth, and then they had a ton of children. [laughter] >> and they were fortunate both of them were able to stay together. there were some who either died or were sold off. that family, that generation, my great grand father mac and then his brother shelby and giles and james and john, and i could go on and name all eight of them. you know, then there was my
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beloved grand father and then the rest of the family. >> thank you very much. >> wonderful family, wonderful family. >> i appreciate you sharing part of that story with us tonight. we just got a lovely note from connie graft who you just mentioned. [laughter] >> [inaudible]. >> she says this is a real story, and i'm proud to be bettye's cousin. i would love to see bettye and i and other madison descendants to come to montpelier together. i want to thank you for coming tonight. a real pleasure. >> thank you for having me. >> we thank you very much for tuning in tonight. we will air an edited version of this talk with the doctor on second thought -- [inaudible].
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the virtual author talk series, about a new novel ask again yes that will be on tuesday may 12th. and on may 21st we will talk about a new memoir called stray. you can see a full video and watch video of our other virtual author events at atlanta history thank you, again, so much doctor, really a pleasure. tonight on book tv, a look at best sellers and award-winning books. beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern, author eric larsen discusses the splendid and the vile that looks at prime minister churchill's leadership during the london blitz. then james patterson and his latest book on the politics of the kennedy family. later the announcement of the 2020 anthony lucas prize. the winners announced during this virtual event included the author of the book black radical and the author of the book


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