Since I've been here, I've wondered what makes the dirt red, but can’t seem to find a really good, thorough explanation. I've asked relatives who grew up in North Carolina why the dirt here is so vibrant and lifelike, but they don’t seem to know. From the bit of research that I've done, I've found that North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and a few other places in the United States, including parts of Texas, have red dirt.
A 1986 article in the The Piedmont Naturalist talks a bit about red dirt or clay and farming practices, but it still doesn't really explain why the dirt is red.
Also, a documentary about African-American farmers and land loss called Homecoming: Sometimes I am Haunted by Red Dirt and Clay, pays homage to the vibrant red earth.
The film's creator, Charlene Gilbert, paints a poignant picture of how the red dirt affected her:
When I was five my family left the South. My mother went home to Montezuma to say goodbye. I don't remember anyone telling me we were going or how long we would be, but I do remember playing in the dirt out by the barn. I remember making mud pies with the red dirt and begging my grandmother for a fresh egg, a key ingredient to any good mud pie. When they called me to leave I scooped up all the dirt I could pack and took it with me to the car. I don't think my mother found the dirt until long after we had left. I'm sure she threw it out and never thought twice about it. I, on the other hand, think about that red dirt every time I look down at my feet. –- Charlene Gilbert
I’ve also heard and read about the pottery and face paintings that Native Americans created with red clay. And there are the stories of women who ate (some who still eat) red dirt or clay. Evidently, some mothers have passed down the practice to their daughters. My daughter has come home several days now with the red dirt on her legs, face, and clothes. The remnants of it can be found on her washcloths and in her bathwater.
When I saw the red dirt again after moving to Charlotte and traveling from our apartment to my parents' small rural hometown about 50 minutes away, I've fantasized about why the dirt is red. Could it be the blood of the overworked and abused African-Americans, or the slaughtered Native Americans, whose bodies are buried in the dirt? Could the red dirt be God’s way of telling us that this part of the country is fertile for new growth and magical happenings? Yeah, I think this is so.
If you have any information about why red dirt is so prevalent in the Carolinas, please post a message here and let me know. I would really appreciate the information.