October 11, 2000

Class Notes








1991-2000 & Graduate School

Class Notes Features:

Detroit exec trades beer for water
Peter Stroh '51 works to clean up the Detroit River

Unlocking the family secret
Katrina Browne '89 documents her family's slave-trading past

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Detroit exec trades beer for water
Peter Stroh '51 works to clean up the Detroit River

Since the 1970s, downtown Detroit has been known as a blighted, dead-end place. But recently the city has been making a comeback. Between 1994 and 1999, Detroit attracted $4.1 billion in new investments - stadiums, theaters, stores, corporate headquarters, and loft apartments among them - and counts another $9 billion still in the pipeline. Now, Peter W. Stroh '51, a philanthropist and retired brewery executive who has lived in Detroit nearly his entire life, is working to revitalize another facet of his hometown: the industrial waterway known as the Detroit River.

Stroh is the only private-sector official serving on the four-person committee that is spearheading Detroit's American Heritage Rivers initiative, a federally sponsored program under way in 14 cities nationwide. For years, the river, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Erie, was thought of as an industrial passage, stocked as it was with factories, warehouses, and distribution centers.

Detroit's program is helping with six discrete projects, including the restoration of Belle Isle Park in the middle of the river; the cleanup of a highly polluted stretch known as Black Lagoon; the implementation of new, ecologically sensitive engineering techniques; and, perhaps most strikingly, the creation of a long chain of linked greenways designed for hikers, joggers, and bikers.

Before Stroh sold his company, Stroh Brewery Co., a few years ago, he couldn't avoid noticing the river's condition: His office window looked right out over it. "People were quick to build industrial projects along the river, and in the process, built a barrier between the residents of southeastern Michigan and the river itself," Stroh says. "What we're trying to do is - bit by bit, piece by piece - open up that access and engender regional pride.

"We hope to give everyone in southeastern Michigan a sense of ownership about the river, and with that, a sense of responsibility," Stroh says. "You can't own it if you can't get near it."

By Louis Jacobson '92


Louis Jacobson is a staff correspondent at National Journal in Washington.


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Unlocking the family secret
Katrina Browne '89 documents her family's slave-trading past

Perhaps nobody is more surprised that Katrina C. Browne '89 is filming a documentary examining her ancestors' involvement in the slave trade than Browne herself. Browne, who majored in anthropology at Princeton and later earned a master of arts in theology from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, where she now lives, has no film background. Most of her previous advocacy work was done through Public Allies, a Princeton Project 55-type program she cofounded. All that changed in 1996 when her grandmother wrote the family history. Browne says, "I guess on some level I always knew about the family link to slavery, but I was just shocked when I realized the extent of the involvement and also of my own repression of the story."

Browne's ancestors, the DeWolfs, were based in the North, yet in The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade, 1700-1807, historian Jay Coughtry writes that they "had the largest interest in the African slave trade of any American family before or after the Revolution."

Mark Anthony DeWolf earned his money largely through the infamous Triangle Trade; he and his sons produced rum in Rhode Island and brought it to the West Coast of Africa to trade for slaves who were brought to Cuba, South Carolina, and New England. The ships carried sugar from Cuba to Bristol, Rhode Island, where the DeWolf family distillery turned it into rum. When Mark Anthony DeWolf's son James, a U.S. senator, died in 1837, he was the second-richest man in the U.S.

"My goal is to use my family history as an example of the larger phenomenon of the role of the North in the institution of slavery," says Browne, who plans to finish the documentary next year and will release it in 2002. "Not knowing history or the role of the North links directly to not understanding the African-American experience in this country and the legacy of racism as manifested today. . . . We're all long overdue to learn what African Americans have endured in this country."

By Karen Regelman '89


Karen Regelman is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.


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