"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

John Brown's Great-Great-Granddaughter: A Long-Distance Phone Chat with Eleanor Clausen Blangsted

Following the news of the death of John Clausen, a descendant of John Brown the abolitionist (see this blog for July 9), I was prompted to make contact with his surviving sister, Eleanor Clausen Blangsted, a woman in her ninth decade of life and living on the west coast. I introduced myself to her over the telephone, finding her lucid, thoughtful, and highly appreciative of my passionate interest in her great forebear.

Ms. Blangsted made it clear that she and her late brother made every effort to continue their great-great-grandfather's legacy by advocating for justice and equality for all people. Indeed, she informed me, she had marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was even an invited guest for the 10th anniversary celebration of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. An accomplished artist, two of her works hang in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta.

Besides being an artist and activist, Eleanor Blangsted was also a professional dancer. According to the San Diego Visual Artist's Guild website, Eleanor Blangsted

started her professional career as a teenager under contract to Warner Brothers Studio in the late 1920’s. She had a successful stage career as an actress and dancer before she switched to fine art. She taught art for many years in both Los Angeles and San Diego. Her artwork has won several awards and she has exhibited widely in galleries, museums, and juried exhibitions throughout Southern California, New York, and overseas. These include the San Diego Museum of Art, Nehushtan Museum in Israel, Downey Art Museum, Mount Saint Mary’s College, University of Southern California, Los Angeles County Art Museum, Oceanside Art Museum, and the Hunter Gallery in New York City. Her work is featured in numerous public and private collections.
In our converstation, Ms. Blangsted acknowledged that many people hate her great-great-grandfather, and that she is glad to know that there is a growing interest in him that is positive. She was especially delighted to learn that Brown has been chosen to be inducted into the National Abolitionist Hall of Fame this October.

Ms. Blangsted's descent from John Brown is simply sketched as follows (unfortunately I do not have complete information)

1. John Brown + Mary Ann Day Brown--daughter Ruth
2. Ruth Brown + Henry Thompson--daughter Ella
3. Ella Thompson Towne by marriage--daughter Adelene
4. Adelene Towne + Carl Clausen [Danish immigrant]--daughter Eleanor Clausen Blangsted

Ms. Blangsted and her late brother, John Clausen, have long advocated along the lines of a progressive political viewpoint, earning the contempt of the lovers and protectors of the status-quo. A good example of her gentle wit is found in a 2003 letter to the editor of the North County Times [San Diego, Calif.], expressing criticism of the brash, abusive tendencies of the right-wing pop-media commentator, Rush Limbaugh, after his issues with drug addiction became known:
I am sorry Rush Limbaugh has had terrible problems with his back and ears. As he suffers with withdrawal from the drugs, will he spend time remembering the mean things he said on the radio, most important, making fun of Amy Carter and Chelsea Clinton when they were young teenagers? That could have been so hurtful. I wonder if he is sorry. How ugly he sounded calling some women femi-Nazis. Will he soften? Will he ever apologize for his cruel remarks?

John Brown has many children in spiritual and ideological terms, those who revere his legacy and seek to extend his work in their respective spheres of activism. But it is also the case that Brown's real descendants walk this land today, although the Brown name is no longer carried by his progeny. Eleanor Clausen Blangsted, the great-great-granddaughter of the abolitionist is a proud descendant, and makes no apology for the love she feels for him. Before our telephone conversation ended, she sent me a "hug" over the phone and thanked me "for loving her John Brown." Her John Brown indeed!--LD

1 comment:

Christy said...

Thank you for putting the effort to get in touch with Eleanor Blangsted. She is my great aunt and growing up she was educational in teaching me all about John Brown. I am fond of my great-great-great-great Grandpa and all he did to help emancipate the slaves. Its exciting to see people still keep his spirit alive.

Christy Lennon