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
3:02 am
Fri December 5, 2014

Saturday's Runoff Will Decide If Sen. Landrieu Still Represents Louisiana

Originally published on Fri December 5, 2014 11:07 am

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

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Politics
2:07 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

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

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

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

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Code Switch
9:45 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

Originally published on Sat November 29, 2014 10:05 am

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
3:20 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 3:04 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
10:02 am
Tue November 4, 2014

Senate Control Could Ride On The South's Tight Races

Originally published on Tue November 4, 2014 10:35 am

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

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Politics
2:33 pm
Mon November 3, 2014

La. Has Become Redder Since Sen. Mary Landrieu Took Office

Originally published on Mon November 3, 2014 4:23 pm

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

Book News & Features
3:51 pm
Fri October 31, 2014

Spine-Tingling With A Twang: Great Alabama Ghost Stories

This photo, taken at Katherine Tucker Windham's Selma house, shows reporter Nikki Davis Maute — and in the background, some say, the spirit the family calls Jeffrey.
University of Alabama Press

Originally published on Fri October 31, 2014 5:41 pm

Halloween is a day for ghost stories, but if you're a skeptic, don't fret. As the late Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham assured her listeners, tales of restless spirits are for everybody.

"I collect ghost stories," Windham said. "Now, the nice thing about ghost stories is that you don't have to believe in ghosts to enjoy hearing a good ghost story."

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Politics
2:33 pm
Fri October 24, 2014

Alabama's Darius Foster Wants To Bring Back 'Fight For The People' GOP

Darius Foster says he wants to challenge racial and political expectations. "With me, unfortunately, everything is black Republican. Not Darius did this, but the black Republican did that."
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Fri October 24, 2014 6:34 pm

Republicans are trying to make inroads with African-Americans in the Deep South, who have voted overwhelmingly Democrat since the civil rights era. In Alabama, the GOP is fielding more black candidates this cycle than ever before. One of them is Darius Foster, who gained national attention with this viral video challenging racial and political expectations:

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Politics
2:46 pm
Wed October 15, 2014

In Increasingly Red Louisiana, Democrat Landrieu Struggles To Hold On

Sen. Mary Landrieu greets candidates Rep. Bill Cassidy (left) and Rob Maness after Tuesday's debate. Most observers don't see how Landrieu can pull enough support to avoid a runoff in the state's open primary.
Gerald Herbert AP

Originally published on Wed October 15, 2014 6:13 pm

Listening to Sen. Mary Landrieu's opponents, you might think President Obama was up for re-election. Tuesday night in Shreveport, the three candidates faced off in a debate for the first time.

Democrat Landrieu is waging hard-fought battle for re-election in a race that could help decide which party has control of the U.S. Senate. Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and a Tea Party candidate, Rob Maness, are her main challengers in Louisiana's open primary on Nov. 4.

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Art & Design
2:53 am
Fri October 10, 2014

Reviving A Southern Industry, From Cotton Field To Clothing Rack

Fashion designer Natalie Chanin stands in front of in-progress garments at the Alabama Chanin Factory. Chanin and Billy Reid, internationally acclaimed designers, have teamed up to test the concept of organic, sustainable cotton farming and garment-making.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Fri October 10, 2014 1:31 pm

You've probably heard of "farm to table," but how about "field to garment"? In Alabama, acclaimed fashion houses Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid have a new line of organic cotton clothing made from their own cotton field.

It's not just an experiment in keeping production local; it's an attempt to revive the long tradition of apparel-making in the Deep South. North Alabama was once a hub for textile manufacturing, with readily available cotton and access to cheap labor. But the industry all but disappeared after NAFTA became law, as operations moved overseas.

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NPR Story
3:44 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 5:45 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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Politics
5:17 am
Fri September 26, 2014

Ex-Con, Future Congressman? Former Gov. Edwin Edwards Campaigns Again

Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards is launching a return to politics by running for Congress. His campaign comes 50 years after he first served as a state senator, and three years after he was released from federal prison, where he was serving time on corruption charges. Edwards — nicknamed the "Silver Fox" €”— says public life is his calling. "It's in my blood," he tells NPR.
Travis Spradling SP

There's a familiar name on the ballot in Louisiana this fall. Edwin Edwards — octogenarian, felon and former four-term governor of the state — is trying to make a political comeback. With his roguish Cajun charm, and a new 30-something wife and 1-year old son by his side, the Democrat is running for Congress in a heavily Republican district.

Can he still woo voters, or is it a foolish campaign dredging up bad memories of the ethical swamp of Louisiana politics?

Turning The Charm Up — Again

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Around the Nation
4:29 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 10:28 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
3:10 am
Fri September 5, 2014

Federal Judge Rules BP Primary Culprit In Gulf Oil Spill

Originally published on Fri September 5, 2014 8:58 am

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Law
2:36 pm
Thu September 4, 2014

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

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

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

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Law
2:19 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

Federal Court Deals A Victory For Opponents Of Same-Sex Marriage

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 5:04 pm

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

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Politics
2:06 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

Freedom Strategy Put To The Test At Democratic National Convention

Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of the Freedom Democratic party, speaks before the credentials committee of the Democratic national convention in Atlantic City, N.J., on Aug. 22, 1964.
AP

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 5:53 pm

Fifty years ago this week, Freedom Summer spilled into national party politics. Young volunteers spent the summer of 1964 in Mississippi, working to register African-American voters. But leaders of the movement also had a political strategy designed to chip away at the oppressive white power structure in the South, and it was put to the test at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J.

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Around the Nation
1:33 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 2:04 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
2:53 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Federal Judge Strikes Down Alabama Abortion Law

Originally published on Mon August 4, 2014 5:09 pm

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

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Crime In The City
3:27 am
Mon July 21, 2014

Writer Plumbs 'Nature Of Evil' In Hometown's Violent Civil Rights Past

Black demonstrators run down a Natchez, Miss., street in 1967 after a report that several white youths with a gun were near. The town's civil rights past informs author Greg Iles' crime fiction.
AP

Originally published on Mon July 21, 2014 9:33 am

Mississippi's past looms large in Greg Iles' best-selling thrillers. His latest book, Natchez Burning, is the first in a trilogy that takes readers back 50 years to chilling civil rights-era murders and conspiracies all set in Iles' hometown — the antebellum river city of Natchez, Miss.

Iles' hero, Penn Cage, is a former prosecutor and widowed single father who has returned to his childhood home. Once there, he finds himself confronting killers, corruption and dark secrets.

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Law
2:11 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Corruption Convictions Spell 10 Year Sentence For Former NOLA Mayor

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 8:39 pm

Transcript

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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
2:15 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 7:30 pm

Transcript

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

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Around the Nation
4:21 am
Wed June 25, 2014

Sen. Cochran Beats Tea Party Challenger In Miss. Runoff

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 10:48 am

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning I'm David Greene form member station WLRN in Miami.

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Politics
2:20 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

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

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 5:08 pm

Transcript

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
12:59 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 7:37 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
2:32 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 4:50 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
2:08 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

In Mississippi, A Heated Senate Primary Spills Into Runoff

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 5:18 pm

Transcript

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
3:17 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 5:12 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
1:47 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 7:30 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
1:23 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 9:57 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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