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).

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.

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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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.



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.



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




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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.

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

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."



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.


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.

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.

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.

After days of storms that dropped massive amounts of rain on the South, floods are sweeping across the Florida Panhandle and the Alabama Gulf Coast.



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.

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.

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.



This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

Alabama consistently ranks near the bottom in most social measures. And as a result, college graduates tend to flee the state for better opportunities elsewhere. Now, a college professor is trying to stop the migration. Stephen Black's inspiration is his grandfather, the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. NPR's Debbie Elliott has this profile.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Stephen Black sits at his grandfather's old desk, rifling through the drawers.

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.

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.

The legal battle over gay marriage is moving to the Deep South. Buoyed by federal court victories in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia, gay-rights activists are taking on traditional marriage laws in the very states where those laws enjoy overwhelming public support.

Take Alabama, where Paul Hard is suing the state for violating his constitutional rights to equal protection and due process following the death of his partner, David Fancher, whom he legally married in Massachusetts. Alabama has a constitutional amendment that forbids same-sex marriage.

Beneath the benevolent gaze of a statue of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, invalids and bachelors, Alynda Lee Segarra sings: "People are dying. No one understands."



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The fate of the former mayor of New Orleans is now in the hands of a jury. Ray Nagin is accused of using his public position for personal financial gain. Nagin is a Democrat. He became known worldwide as the face of city government when Hurricane Katrina struck. He held office for two terms. NPR's Debbie Elliot was in federal court today to hear closing arguments in this case and she joins us now.

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.



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.


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


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.

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.

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.

As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year. They're numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we live in.

On a breezy December morning, a work crew is scouring the surf line on Grand Isle, La., scooping up tiny tar balls and collecting them in a basket.

Foreman LeRoy Irving keeps track of what the 14-person team has collected in a half-day. "If I had to guess, maybe 10 pounds," he says.