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Robert Leslie: 'Stormbelt' Reflections 

Visiting America in my childhood revealed a brave and dynamic new world. Its intense sun and endless horizons made my early life in northern England seem comparatively monotonous; a colourless black & white. The US I saw in the sixties was at its most dynamic: the economy was booming & productivity was at its highest levels. Enthusiasm, energy and opportunity abounded.

Forty years later, I returned.

My starting day was that of the arrival of the first African American president, Barack Obama, into the White House. Attending a live transmission of the inauguration in the performing arts center in Miami, I listened to his words and watched the spectators cheer as he spoke of his vision of the future. Filled with this energy, I set out on a five thousand mile journey to witness the reality of the country that he had inherited.

I chose to drive through the Sunbelt, a region long viewed as the future boomland for the United States. This hot, southern region, stretching from coast to coast, was the land of hope for this generation. Agriculture, housing, immigration & the military were all predicted to repeat the growth of the sixties.