Bettye Kearse was born in Tucson, Arizona and grew up in Northern California. She holds a B.A. in Genetics from the University at California at Berkeley, a Ph.D. in Biology from New York University, and an M.D. from Case Western Reserve University. After practicing pediatrics in Boston, MA, for thirty-one years, she retired and now lives in Santa Fe, NM.
Among her most rewarding experiences as a physician were her travels to China on behalf of Wide Horizons for Children, an international adoption agency; and service on the Board of Directors of From Roots to Wings, a community-based organization in Boston for grandparents and the grandchildren they are raising.
In 1990, she became the griotte, the oral historian, for her family when her mother brought her the box of family memorabilia, and said, “I want to give you plenty of time to write the book.” The time had come for the story of their African American family to take its place in recorded history. To write the book, she traveled around the United States and to Ghana, West Africa, and Lagos, Portugal.
The Other Madisons: The Lost History of A President’s Black Family (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2020) is both a personal family history and homage to millions of silenced, invisible African Americans. In recounting the struggles, perseverance, and contributions of eight generations of her family, it reveals the myriad ways enslaved Africans and their descendants were marginalized in or excluded from dominant narrative of this country. Her book is an intimate work of narrative nonfiction that discovers, discloses, and embraces a more inclusive and complete American story.
Kearse’s essays, and commentaries have appeared in the Boston Herald, River Teeth, Zora, ImageMakers & Influencers magazine, OpEdNews, Mental Floss, The New York Times, TIME Magazine, and the anthology Black Lives Have Always Mattered. Her personal narrative “Destination Jim Crow” was listed as notable among The Best American Essays 2014 and nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. The Other Madisons, the 2020 winner of the International Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society Book Award—Autobiogrpahy, was chosen as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of the Year, a Smithsonian Magazine‘s “Best History Books of 2020,” and one of Parade‘s Best Memoirs to Read [in 2020].