I Am a Descendant of James Madison and His Slave

My whole life, my mother told me, ‘Always remember — you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president.’

Bettye Kearse
ZORA

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An illustration of an open locket that has James Madison’s portrait scratched out on one side, and Coreen, one the other.
Illustration: Sophia Zarders

PPresident Madison did not have children with his wife, Dolley. Leading scholars believe he was impotent, infertile, or both. But the stories I have heard since my childhood say that James…

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Bettye Kearse
ZORA

Bettye Kearse is a retired pediatrician and an oral historian who explores her unique family legacy. She descends from President James Madison.