Debbie Elliott

After a stint on Capitol Hill, NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott is back covering her native South.

From a giant sinkhole swallowing up a bayou community in Louisiana to new state restrictions on abortion providers, Elliott keeps track of the region's news. She also reports on cultural treasures such as an historic church in need of preservation in Helena, Arkansas; the magical House of Dance and Feathers in New Orleans' lower 9th ward; and the hidden-away Coon Dog Cemetery in north Alabama.

She's looking back at the legacy of landmark civil rights events, and following the legal battles between states and the federal government over immigration enforcement, healthcare, and voting rights.

Her coverage of the BP oil spill has focused on the human impact of the spill, the complex litigation to determine responsibility for the disaster, and how the region is recovering. She launched the series, "The Disappearing Coast," which examines the history and culture of south Louisiana, the state's complicated relationship with the oil and gas industry, and the oil spill's lasting impact on a fragile coastline.

Debbie has reported on the new entrepreneurial boom in post-Katrina New Orleans, as well as that city's decades-long struggle with violent crime, and a broken criminal justice system. She's examined the obesity epidemic in Mississippi, and a ground-breaking prisoner meditation program at Alabama's toughest lockup. She's taken NPR listeners on a musical tour of Memphis in a pink Cadillac, and profiled writers and musicians including Aaron Neville, Sandra Boynton, and Trombone Shorty.

Look for Debbie's signature political coverage as well. She's watching vulnerable Congressional seats and tracking southern politicians who have higher political aspirations. She was part of NPR's election team in 2008 and 2112 — reporting live from the floor of the political conventions, following the Presidential campaigns around the country, and giving voice to voters making their choice.

During her tenure in Washington, DC, Debbie covered Congress and hosted NPR's All Things Considered on the weekends. In that role she interviewed a variety of luminaries and world leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She celebrated the 40th Anniversary of "Alice's Restaurant" with Arlo Guthrie, and mixed it up on the rink with the Baltimore's Charm City Roller Girls. She profiled the late historian John Hope Franklin and the children's book author Eric Carle.

Since joining NPR in 1995, Debbie has covered the re-opening of civil-rights-era murder cases, the legal battle over displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses, the Elian Gonzales custody dispute from Miami, and a number of major hurricanes, from Andrew to Katrina. Debbie was stationed in Tallahassee, Florida, for election night in 2000, and was one of the first national reporters on the scene for the contentious presidential election contest that followed. She has covered landmark smoker lawsuits, the tobacco settlement with states, the latest trends in youth smoking and electronic cigarettes, and tobacco-control policy and regulation. NPR has sent her to cover a Super Bowl, the Summer Olympics, Bama football fans, and baseball spring training.

Debbie Elliott was born in Atlanta, grew up in the Memphis area, and is a graduate of the University of Alabama College of Communication. She's the former news director of member station WUAL (now Alabama Public Radio).

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Politics
3:07 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

Louisiana's Edwin Edwards May Be On His Last Political Stand

Originally published on Thu December 4, 2014 5:47 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Code Switch
11:05 am
Sat November 29, 2014

A Musical Tribute For A Waiter Who Spoke Out Against Racism

Justin Hopkins sings during a tribute show for Booker Wright, who worked in a whites-only restaurant in the Mississippi Delta.
Brandall Atkinson Courtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance

Editor's note: This story contains racial slurs.

A new musical work pays tribute to an unlikely and little-known civil rights activist: Booker T. Wright. You won't find his name in history textbooks. But his story is a testament to the everyday experiences of blacks in the Jim Crow South.

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Around the Nation
4:20 am
Tue November 25, 2014

Plan To Use Gulf Oil Spill Funds For Beach Hotel Sparks Lawsuit

The Alabama gulf coast is heavily developed with condo and hotel properties. Now the state wants to use Gulf Coast restoration funds to build a new beach hotel and conference center.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Tue November 25, 2014 4:04 pm

Money is flowing now to Gulf Coast states to remedy damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent spill. All kinds of projects are underway, from building boat ramps to shoring-up marshland.

They're being paid for with a $1 billion down payment BP made toward its ultimate responsibility to make the Gulf Coast whole, a figure estimated to be up to $18 billion.

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Politics
11:35 am
Tue November 4, 2014

Senate Control Could Ride On The South's Tight Races

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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NPR Story
4:44 pm
Fri October 3, 2014

As Populations Shift, Democrats Hope To Paint The Sun Belt Blue

A sign directs voters at a polling site in Atlanta. "Georgia is changing dramatically," Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter says. "There's no doubt that Georgia is next in line as a national battleground state."
David Goldman AP

Originally published on Fri October 3, 2014 6:45 pm

The Democratic National Committee is running a Spanish language ad on radio stations in North Carolina and Georgia, where there are competitive U.S. Senate races.

"Republicans think we're going to stay home," the ad says. "It's time to rise up."

Democrats see opportunity in Southern states with fast-growing minority populations and an influx of people relocating to the Sun Belt. In Georgia, there's a push to register new voters in hopes of turning a red state blue.

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Around the Nation
5:29 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

Preserving Black History, Americans Care For National Treasures At Home

Neonta Williams (left) shares family letters dating back to 1901 with preservationist Kimberly Peach during the Smithsonian's Save our African American Treasures program at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Peach advises her to use archive-quality polyester sleeves to protect the fragile papers, rather than store them in a zip-lock bag.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Tue September 16, 2014 11:28 pm

In a hall inside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama on Saturday, long tables are draped with black linen. Experts are bent over tables, examining aging quilts, letters filled with tight, hand-penned script, and yellowing black-and-white photos tacked into crackling albums — all family keepsakes brought in by local residents.

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Law
3:36 pm
Thu September 4, 2014

Federal Judge Decides BP Acted With Gross Negligence In Gulf Oil Spill

Originally published on Thu September 4, 2014 5:51 pm

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Around the Nation
2:33 am
Wed August 20, 2014

Gay-Rights Movement Tackles Cultural Battle In The Deep South

Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, launched a grass-roots effort to make the Deep South's culture more accepting of gays and lesbians. Brad Clark discusses the group's work in Mississippi.
Rogelio V. Solis AP

Originally published on Wed August 20, 2014 3:04 pm

Mercedes Ricks may be the perfect candidate to help launch a new cultural push in Magnolia, Miss. The 50-year-old native of Colombia ended up in this tiny south Mississippi town by way of New Orleans nine years ago.

"I met these ladies from here," Ricks says after greeting guests in the barroom next to her Mariposa restaurant. "They invited me to come spend a weekend in Magnolia. We were going to go to the river and drink beer, and Katrina happened that weekend."

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Law
3:53 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Federal Judge Strikes Down Alabama Abortion Law

Originally published on Mon August 4, 2014 6:09 pm

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Law
3:11 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Corruption Convictions Spell 10 Year Sentence For Former NOLA Mayor

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 9:39 pm

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A federal judge has sentenced former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to 10 years in prison for corruption conviction. The sentence was lighter than what prosecutors were seeking for the former two-term Democrat. NPR's Debbie Elliott covered Nagin's trial earlier this year, and she joins us now to talk about today's sentencing. Debbie, first remind us of what Ray Nagin was convicted of back in February.

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Politics
3:15 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

Longtime Sen. Cochran Ekes Out A Win Against Tea Party Challenger

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 8:30 pm

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

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Politics
3:50 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Twisty Miss. Primary May Mean End Of Road For Longtime Senator

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 6:08 pm

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. Next week, voters in Mississippi once again go to the polls; this time in the runoff for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. Six-term incumbent Thad Cochran remains locked in a tight race against challenger Chris McDaniel, a Tea-Party-backed State Senator. It is seen as a referendum on whether the GOP establishment can beat back Tea Party fervor. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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Code Switch
1:59 am
Thu June 19, 2014

Still Learning From The 'Pearl Harbor' Of The Civil Rights Movement

Civil rights activists gather outside Mount Zion Church in Philadelphia, Miss., on Sunday to honor the murdered civil rights workers. From left: Bob Moses, Dave Dennis, Rita Schwerner Bender, Leroy Clemons, Myrlie Evers-Williams and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
Rogelio V. Solis AP

Originally published on Thu June 19, 2014 8:37 am

This weekend marks 50 years since three young civil rights workers went missing in Philadelphia, Miss., drawing the nation's attention to the brutal resistance to equal rights in the South at the time.

Justice came slowly, but the murders did help spur change. Today, young people are still learning about the activists' legacy, hoping to inspire further action.

Attack At The Church

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Code Switch
3:32 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Mississippi Marks 50 Years Since History-Changing 'Freedom Summer'

A new exhibit at the Mississippi state archives includes photographs, excerpts from journals and film clips documenting 1964's Freedom Summer.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Thu June 26, 2014 5:50 pm

A new exhibit at the Mississippi state archives takes you back in time. The facade of a front porch, complete with screen door, invites you to imagine what it was like for some 900 activists, mostly white college students, who in 1964 came to the nation's most closed society.

Robert Moses was an organizer of what was at the time formally known as the Mississippi Summer Project.

"That's sort of what was nice about it. There was no pretension that we were going to change history," Moses says. "We were just going to have our little summer project."

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Politics
3:08 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

In Mississippi, A Heated Senate Primary Spills Into Runoff

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 6:18 pm

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A bitterly fought Republican Senate primary in Mississippi is heading for overtime. After yesterday's voting, longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran is trailing his Tea Party backed challenger, State Sen. Chris McDaniel. The race appears headed for a runoff in three weeks. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been covering the contest and joins us now from Jackson, Mississippi. Hi, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

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Politics
4:17 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

In Mississippi, A Senate Race Derailed By A Blogger's Photos

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who is seeking his seventh term, is in a heated primary race with a Tea Party-backed challenger. Supporters of his opponent are accused of conspiring to photograph Cochran's bedridden wife.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 6:12 pm

Mississippi's Republican Senate primary has taken a bizarre and nasty turn as Tuesday's election draws near. The heated race is considered one of the Tea Party's best opportunities to unseat a longtime GOP incumbent, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

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Around the Nation
2:47 am
Wed May 14, 2014

Too Young To Smoke, But Not To Pick Tobacco

Eddie Ramirez, 15, outside his mobile home in Snow Hill, N.C. He's been working in tobacco fields during the summer for several years.
Will Michaels for NPR

Originally published on Wed May 14, 2014 8:30 am

Kids under 18 can't buy cigarettes in the U.S., but they can legally work in tobacco fields when they're as young as 12.

One of those kids is Eddie Ramirez, 15, who works the fields in the summer.

"It just sticks to my hand," he says of the plant. "It's really sticky, you know, and really yellow." It's nearly impossible to wash off, he says.

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Politics
2:23 am
Tue May 13, 2014

In Mississippi, A Tea Party Challenger Takes On A GOP Institution

Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel speaks to supporters in Jackson on Thursday. He is challenging Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in Cochran's bid for a seventh term.
Rogelio V. Solis AP

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 10:57 pm

The Tea Party Express bus tour made a recent swing through Mississippi, stopping on the lush grounds of the state Capitol in Jackson.

It's a strategic stop to rally support for a state senator who is giving longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran the re-election battle of his career. The Senate primary here is the latest episode in the national GOP power struggle between establishment forces and Tea Party upstarts.

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Around the Nation
3:24 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Dozens Dead And Communities Reeling As Storms Roil Deep South

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 10:38 am

Transcript

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This South is coping with a third day of severe weather. More than 30 people in the region have been killed. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports the damage is widespread, reaching from Oklahoma to the Carolinas.

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Around the Nation
4:15 am
Mon April 28, 2014

Mississippi's Lone Abortion Clinic Fights To Remain Open

Jackson Women's Health Organization, located in an art deco section of Jackson, Miss., minutes from the state Capitol building, has long been a flashpoint in the abortion debate.
Debbie Elliot NPR

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 7:21 am

Mississippi's only abortion clinic is fighting to remain open in the face of ever-tightening state regulations. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans hears arguments Monday in a dispute over a state law that requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.

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Around the Nation
2:40 am
Wed April 16, 2014

As La. Coast Recedes, Battle Rages Over Who Should Pay

Man-made canals built for the oil and gas industry cut through wetland. The industry argues those canals aren't to blame for coastal erosion.
Robert F. Bukaty AP

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 3:33 pm

Louisiana's coast is disappearing at the rate of about a football field an hour. Since the 1930s, the Gulf of Mexico has swallowed up an area the size of Delaware.

You can see the water encroaching in Delacroix in St. Bernard Parish, less than an hour southeast of New Orleans. Here, a narrow crescent of land known locally as the "end of the world" is where the road abruptly comes to a dead end; in the distance, you see the tops of now-submerged trees.

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News
3:16 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Paula Deen's Restaurant, Site Of Seafood And Slurs, Shuts Down

Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 5:18 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Another chapter today in the saga of Southern food celebrity Paula Deen. Bubba's Seafood & Oyster House has closed its doors. That's the Savannah, Georgia, restaurant she owns along with her brother. It was the center of a controversy last year that cost Deen part of her lucrative food empire after she admitted under oath that she had used a racial slur. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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Environment
4:38 pm
Wed March 26, 2014

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Brings 'Bad Juju' And Pain 25 Years Later

Scott Pegau, a scientist at the Prince William Sound Science Center, studies the effects of spilled oil on the environment in Cordova, Alaska.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 8:54 pm

At Ross Mullins' home in Cordova, Alaska, you have to slam the front door extra hard to make it close. The former commercial fisherman lives in a small wood-frame house that's in need of repair. Some of the windows are cracked and he leaves the water faucets dripping to protect uninsulated pipes from the harsh Alaskan winter.

When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground and started leaking oil 25 years ago, the disaster drastically changed the fishing industry in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Mullins has never recovered from that blow.

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Business
2:35 am
Mon March 3, 2014

E-Cigarette Critics Worry New Ads Will Make 'Vaping' Cool For Kids

E-cigarettes was a $2 billion industry last year and it's expected to hit $5 billion this year.
Jim Watson AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 5, 2014 4:30 pm

Electronic cigarette makers are getting bold with their advertising, using provocative new print ads and celebrity endorsements on TV. But public health advocates say these images are luring kids to hook them on nicotine.

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Law
3:29 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Face Of Katrina Recovery Found Guilty Of Corruption Charges

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 7:00 pm

Wednesday in New Orleans, a federal jury convicted former Mayor Ray Nagin on 20 of 21 corruption counts. The two-term mayor was in office when Hurricane Katrina struck and was the public face of the city during the city's rebuilding. Federal prosecutors say that it was during this time he took bribes to steer rebuilding contracts to businessmen.

The Salt
5:12 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

When His Pit Burned Down, Southern BBQ Master Took Hogs On Tour

Pitmaster Rodney Scott seasons a roasting hog behind a barbecue restaurant in Birmingham, Ala. Scott has been touring the South with a makeshift barbecue pit to raise money to rebuild his family's cookhouse after it burned down in November.
Debbie Elliott/NPR

Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 7:00 pm

In the tiny town of Hemingway, S.C., the Scott family has been selling barbecue out of its roadside general store for nearly a half-century. The smoky, vinegary pork has reached legendary status around the South.

So when the Scotts' wooden cookhouse went up in flames late last year, barbecue brethren cooked up a plan to get them back in business. What resulted is a part road trip, part old-fashioned barn-raising tour called Rodney Scott's Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour.

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Around the Nation
4:54 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Deep South, Meet Deep Freeze

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 5:55 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Deep South is in a deep freeze. Snow, sleet and freezing rain have gripped a region more accustomed to sun and surf. As a result, roads are a mess and from South Louisiana to the Carolina coast, classes are cancelled, airplanes are grounded, and businesses and government offices are closed.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: In Birmingham, Alabama today, just getting around town is practically impossible.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

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Race
6:51 pm
Mon January 13, 2014

Nearly Six Decades Later, Integration Remains A Work In Progress

Students in Central High School walk through the hallways between classes.
Debbie Elliot NPR

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 12:30 pm

A federal judge in Little Rock, Ark., approved a settlement today that ends decades of litigation over school desegregation there.

The city was one of the first tests of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Brown v. Board of Education, when President Eisenhower sent federal troops to integrate Central High School in 1957.

Just about anyone you speak to about the Little Rock desegregation case says it's time for the contentious and ongoing litigation to be over. But no one is really celebrating either.

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Code Switch
2:07 am
Mon January 13, 2014

Decades Later, Desegregation Still On The Docket In Little Rock

Eight of the nine black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School walk from school to their waiting Army station wagon on Oct. 2, 1957.
Ferd Kaufman AP

Originally published on Mon January 13, 2014 12:23 pm

In Little Rock, Ark., on Monday, a federal judge is considering a deal that would end one of the longest-running and most notorious school desegregation cases in the country. The state, its largest school districts and lawyers representing black students have agreed to settle a complex lawsuit over unequal education.

Little Rock has long been the symbol of the South's violent reaction to Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that declared school segregation unconstitutional.

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Around the Nation
4:20 am
Sun January 12, 2014

A Black Church's Dilemma: Preserve A Building, Or Our Identity?

Centennial Baptist Church in Helena, Ark.
Dave Anderson

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 9:51 am

The towers framing the majestic roof of Centennial Baptist Church reach for the heavens near downtown Helena, Ark. The elaborate red brick church stands out in a neighborhood that's seen better days, given the boarded-up homes and businesses nearby.

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