Debbie Elliott

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.

For more than two decades, Elliott has been one of NPR's top breaking news reporters. She's covered dozens of natural disasters – including hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Harvey. She reported on the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, introducing NPR listeners to teenage boys orphaned in the disaster, struggling to survive on their own.

Elliott spent months covering the nation's worst man-made environmental disaster, the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, documenting its lingering impact on Gulf coast communities and the complex legal battles that ensued. She launched the series "The Disappearing Coast," which examines the oil spill's lasting imprint on a fragile coastline.

She was honored with a 2018 Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation for crisis coverage, in part for her work covering the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the mass murder of worshippers at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. She was part of NPR's teams covering the mass shootings at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church and the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.

Elliott has followed national debates over immigration, healthcare, abortion, tobacco, voting rights, welfare reform, same-sex marriage, Confederate monuments, criminal justice and policing in America. She examined the obesity epidemic in Mississippi, a shortage of public defenders in Louisiana, a rise in the incarceration of girls in Florida and chronic inhumane conditions at state prisons in Alabama and Mississippi.

A particular focus for Elliott has been exploring how Americans live through the prism of race, culture and history. Her coverage links lessons from the past to the movement for racial justice in America today.

She's looked at the legacy of landmark civil rights events, including the integration of Little Rock's Central High, the assassination of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, the Montgomery bus boycott and the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama. She contributed a four-part series on the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, which earned a 2019 Gracie Award for documentary.

She was present for the re-opening of civil rights era murder cases, covering trials in the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, the murder of Hattiesburg, Miss., NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer and the killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Miss.

Elliott has profiled key figures in politics and the arts, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, historian John Hope Franklin, Congressman John Lewis, children's book author Eric Carle, musician Trombone Shorty and former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. She covered the funerals of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, and the King of the Blues BB King, and she took listeners along for the second line jazz procession in memory of Fats Domino in New Orleans.

Her stories give a taste of southern culture, from the Nashville hot chicken craze to the traditions of Mardi Gras to the roots of American music at Mississippi's new Grammy Museum. She's highlighted little-known treasures such as North Carolina artist Freeman Vines and his hanging tree guitars, the magical House of Dance and Feathers in New Orleans' Lower 9th ward, a remote Coon Dog Cemetery in north Alabama and the Cajun Christmas tradition of lighting bonfires on the levees of the Mississippi River.

Elliott is a former host of NPR's newsmagazine All Things Considered on the weekends, and is a former Capitol Hill Correspondent. She's an occasional guest host of NPR's news programs and is a contributor to podcasts and live programming.

Elliott was born in Atlanta, grew up in the Memphis area, and is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She lives in south Alabama with her husband, two children and a pet beagle.

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Barry is now a hurricane as it makes landfall on Louisiana's coast to the west of New Orleans. The storm is expected to dump more than a foot of rain in some places and cause flash flooding. NPR's Debbie Elliott is in New Orleans. Debbie, thanks so much for being with us.

The recent discovery of the remains of the last slave ship to the United States is bringing hope of revival to Africatown. It's a small community in Mobile, Ala., founded by African captives brought on the schooner Clotilda, thought to have arrived sometime in 1859 or 1860.

Lorna Woods' great-great-grandfather, Charlie Lewis, was brought to Mobile on the Clotilda. Now she tells his story as a volunteer with the local history museum.

In December, 33-year old Ryan Rust was found dead in his solitary cell at Alabama's Holman prison, a belt around his neck with one end tied to a bar in the cell window.

"He's my little brother," says Harmony Rust-Bodke. She keeps his ashes in a gilded red urn in honor of his favorite college football team. "That's the crimson color cause he is an Alabama fan," she says.

The U.S. Department of Justice has put the state of Alabama on notice to fix dangerous and deadly prison conditions or face a lawsuit that could result in a federal takeover of the prison system.

Nashville may be the country music capital, but the industry for which its famous began in Atlanta. Now, a grassroots drive to preserve a historic downtown building is highlighting Atlanta's somewhat forgotten role in early roots music.

At 152 Nassau Street in Downtown Atlanta, an unmarked two-story rose brick storefront houses a piece of Atlanta's music history. This was the site of a pop-up recording studio in 1923.

In what would likely become the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, the Alabama House Tuesday passed a bill that would make it a crime for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of a pregnancy, unless a woman's life is threatened. The legislation is part of a broader anti-abortion strategy to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the right to abortion.

After allegations of a toxic workplace culture that discriminates against women and people of color, the Southern Poverty Law Center is trying to emerge and chart a way forward. Turmoil in the civil rights organization last month resulted in the firing of its famous founder and the resignations of its longtime president and legal director.

Karen Baynes-Dunning, an African-American woman, was then appointed to run the organization as its interim president. She spoke publicly about the path forward this week, for the first time, with NPR.

Charlottesville city government was upended after a woman was killed and others injured in a car attack by a white supremacist in 2017. White nationalists had targeted Charlottesville for a "Unite The Right Rally" after the Virginia town decided to take down a Confederate statue, part of its reckoning with a fraught racial history.

In Virginia, two of the top three statewide elected officials have admitted to wearing blackface several decades ago. While Gov. Ralph Northam has denied that he appears in the racist photo on his page of his medical school's yearbook, he did admit to painting his face with shoe polish while dressing up as Michael Jackson for a dance contest in the 1980s. Meanwhile, Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he too wore blackface while dressing up with college friends as rappers.

Political enemies and allies alike are calling for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, to step down after a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook was uncovered. But Northam has shown no inclination to do so. Now the two Democratic officials in line behind him to assume the governorship are both embroiled in scandals of their own.

The controversies rocking Richmond are a reminder of the complicated racial history that underpins Virginia politics.

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Jury selection begins today in the trial of the man accused of ramming his car through a crowd of people protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. James Alex Fields, Jr. is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, and faces additional charges of malicious wounding.

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In 1975, Norris Henderson went on trial for second-degree murder as a 19-year-old in New Orleans. He thought he was a free man when there were two holdouts on the jury.

"Watched Perry Mason all my life," he says. "Okay, 10-2, I'm outta here."

But he was mistaken. Louisiana has a split-jury system that only requires 10 of 12 jurors to return a guilty verdict.

"Sheriff put the handcuffs on me and took me to the back," Norris recalls. "I was like, 'Something ain't right.' "

Henderson spent the next 27 years in prison until a judge released him.

Before authorities apprehended suspect Cesar Sayoc in connection to the series of mail bombs, the case prompted all sorts of speculation and conspiracy theories. The bombs were all sent to high profile critics of President Trump

"It is a high probability that the whole thing is set up as a false flag to gain sympathy for the Democrats," said talk radio host Michael Savage, "and to get our minds off the hordes of illegal aliens approaching our southern border."

More than a week after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida panhandle, cities and towns are facing the daunting task of trying to rebuild. The recovery is hampered by catastrophic damage not only to homes and businesses, but to vital infrastructure as well.

The small Gulf coast town of Port St. Joe, with a population of about 3,500 residents, is one of countless communities that was hit by the storm.

Most of the roads in Florida's Bay County are now impassable. There's no electricity, no working sewers, no gasoline, very little cell service, and a boil water advisory.

"This whole town's destroyed" after Hurricane Michael, says Ryan Smith, a mechanic in Lynn Haven, on the north side of Panama City, Fla.

He's standing outside a red brick apartment complex where most of the roofs are gone and giant pine trees have fallen through some of the buildings.

"This was our house," he says. "Now all our stuff's destroyed."

In downtown New Bern, N.C. , accountant Mike Rogers, hammer in hand, spent Sunday tearing 2 feet of drenched drywall out of his CPA office.

"At least it's not tax season," he says, trying to keep a good attitude after a foot of water flooded the storefront office. He is using fans to dry things out, as colleagues remove files from the second story.

"It came in quick, left quick," Rogers says. "We're trying to save as much as we can."

The front window is still boarded up with the spray-painted message #NewBernStrong.

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The queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, has gotten quite a sendoff today more than two weeks after she died at the age of 76. She was remembered during a star-studded funeral in her hometown of Detroit, a funeral that lasted about seven hours.

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Charlottesville has long been known known as a charming college town — home to the University of Virginia and its founder Thomas Jefferson. After a deadly clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters on Aug. 12 last year, Charlottesville has become shorthand for racial strife.

The recent vote in Ireland to repeal its abortion ban is setting off calls for change in neighboring Northern Ireland, which still has strict laws on the procedure that date to Victorian times.

But with no functioning government in Belfast, it would be up to the U.K. government of Prime Minister Theresa May to push through abortion reforms in British-ruled Northern Ireland.

The matter was before the House of Commons on Tuesday.

"We don't protect women by criminalizing them," Labour Party member Stella Creasy said in Parliament.

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Fifty years ago today, a mule train left the small town of Marks, Miss., bound for the nation's capital. They were answering a call to action the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made just days before he was assassinated.

"We're coming to Washington in a poor people's campaign," King announced at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968. "I was in Marks, Miss., the other day, which is in Quitman County, the poorest county in the United States. And I tell you I saw hundreds of black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear."

Editor's note: This report contains language and an image some may find offensive or upsetting.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice stands high on a hillside overlooking downtown Montgomery, Ala. Beyond the buildings you can see the winding Alabama River and hear the distant whistle of a train — the nexus that made the city a hub for the domestic slave trade.

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Coretta Scott King was often referred to as the "first lady of civil rights," known primarily as the wife and then widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

But her presence in Memphis, Tenn., just four days after her husband was slain there, was the act of a civil rights leader in her own right.

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