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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Code Switch
6:32 pm
Fri March 27, 2015

Southern Baptists Don't Shy Away From Talking About Their Racist Past

Russell Moore preaching during the first plenary address, "Black, And White And Red All Over: Why Racial Reconciliation Is A Gospel Issue."
Alli Rader

Originally published on Fri March 27, 2015 8:52 pm

Southern Baptist leaders were supposed to be talking about bioethics this week at a summit in Nashville, Tenn. That changed in December after a New York grand jury declined to return an indictment in the police choking death of Eric Garner.

When Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, sent out tweets expressing his shock, there was pushback. Should the church get involved in a divisive political issue?

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Around the Nation
2:54 pm
Wed March 11, 2015

Investigation Continues Into Crash Of Blackhawk Military Helicopter In Fla.

Originally published on Wed March 11, 2015 8:40 pm

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Around the Nation
3:34 am
Mon March 9, 2015

50 Years Later, Thousands Commemorate Selma's 'Bloody Sunday'

Mercedes Binns, who has been to Selma 17 times because of its civil rights history, walks on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, on Sunday in Selma, Ala.
Bill Frakes AP

Originally published on Mon March 9, 2015 8:17 am

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Race
6:10 am
Sun March 8, 2015

Obama Evokes The 'Eternal Struggle' In Selma

Originally published on Sun March 8, 2015 11:08 am

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Around the Nation
4:28 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

New Museum Depicts 'The Life Of A Slave From Cradle To The Tomb'

In recent years, some popular antebellum plantations have started to incorporate displays about slavery. But the Whitney Plantation has designed the visitor's entire experience around that history.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Fri February 27, 2015 6:31 pm

The section of Louisiana's serpentine River Road that tracks along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is known as "Plantation Alley." The restored antebellum mansions along the route draw hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

The newest attraction aims to give visitors a realistic look at life in the pre-Civil War South. Don't expect hoop skirts and mint juleps, but stark relics that tell the story of a dark period in American history, through the eyes of the enslaved.

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Law
4:26 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

Ruling May Force Ala. Probate Judges To Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

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Around the Nation
3:43 am
Thu February 12, 2015

Federal Judge May Clarify Confusion In Ala. Gay Marriage Standoff

Originally published on Thu February 12, 2015 1:54 pm

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Around the Nation
3:50 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

After Ruling, Alabama Faces Hodgepodge Of Same-Sex Marriage Policies

Originally published on Tue February 10, 2015 6:53 pm

Gay rights advocates have asked a federal court to order probate judges in Alabama to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Meanwhile, some couples staged a sit-in, of sorts, outside the Mobile County courthouse.

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Around the Nation
2:48 pm
Mon February 9, 2015

Alabama Joins 36 States In Allowing Same-Sex Marriage

Originally published on Mon February 9, 2015 4:27 pm

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Law
3:18 am
Fri February 6, 2015

Ala. Chief Justice Stirs Controversy Before Gay Marriage Becomes Legal

Originally published on Fri February 6, 2015 9:25 am

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Law
2:28 pm
Wed January 28, 2015

Judge Throws Out Convictions Of Civil Rights Pioneers, 'Friendship 9'

Originally published on Tue February 3, 2015 11:16 pm

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It was a day of historical reckoning in Rock Hill, S.C. A judge threw out the convictions of several civil rights pioneers who were jailed 54 years ago for a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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Law
2:28 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

BP Back In Court For Final Phase Of Gulf Oil Spill Trial

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 9:25 am

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Law
3:23 am
Mon January 19, 2015

U.S. District Judge To Calculate BP's Fine For Gulf Oil Spill

Originally published on Mon January 19, 2015 6:15 pm

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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