An earth scientist explores the broad historical branches extending from her own roots.
Many geologists limit their subjects of inquiry to the Earth, probing contours of the land to reveal how past developments have come to shape the present. In Savoy’s (Environmental Studies and Geology/Mount Holyoke Coll.; co-author: The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World, 2011, etc.) latest study, however, the quest of this self-described “Earth historian” begins closer to home. She traces her Native, African-, Euro-American ancestry across the United States in the hope of learning what her extended family experienced. The author’s parents both served in the military during World War II, her father in the segregated Army Air Forces and her mother as a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. Impelled by their reticence when recounting their experiences in different communities, Savoy retraces her parents’ steps from Washington, D.C., to California, South Carolina, Arizona, and the Mexican borderland, searching in each destination for the muted historical realities of the marginalized. Along this trek, the author unearths unfathomable stories of racial discrimination and federally sanctioned hypocrisy—e.g., Charles Drew, the African-American physician who developed the blood bank, was fired when he tried to end the “government-approved” policy of segregating blood; African-American nurses in the ranks of the Army Nurse Corps experienced segregation when forced to serve where white nurses refused to. Savoy’s well-researched account, which includes numerous lyric eyewitness descriptions of place, also delves into recently declassified National Archives records to note how prisoners of war “expressed to the nurses their surprise that Americans would fight to preserve democracy abroad and at home exhibit prejudice to other Americans solely because of their skin color.”
Springing from the literal Earth to metaphor, Savoy demonstrates the power of narrative to erase as easily as it reveals, yielding a provocative, eclectic exposé of the palimpsest historically defining the U.S. as much as any natural or man-made boundary.