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.

Gulf Coast states are lining up to spend $1 billion from BP on coastal restoration. The money is part of BP's legal responsibility to restore the Gulf of Mexico's natural resources in the aftermath of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

But the nature of some of the state projects, including boat ramps and a beachfront hotel, is raising questions about just what counts as coastal restoration.

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When he was a teenager, journalist Rod Dreher couldn't wait to escape Louisiana. Now he has found his way home again in grief — after his sister's death from lung cancer. It was "in light" of that tragedy, Dreher says, that he discovered the value of community. It's the subject of his new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.

Louisiana officials are grappling with a giant sinkhole that's threatening a neighborhood. A salt mine collapsed last year, creating a series of problems regulators say they've never seen before, including tremors and oil and gas leaks and a sinkhole that now covers 9 acres.

Residents have been evacuated for more than seven months now and are losing patience.

Ernie Boudreaux lives in a trailer on Jambalaya Street in Bayou Corne, La. Strange things have been happening to his home, he says.

It's Fat Tuesday, the final day of indulgence before the fasting and penance of Lent begins. While the revelry in New Orleans tends to grab the spotlight, you can find some fascinating Mardi Gras traditions elsewhere.

From chasing chickens in Cajun Country to catching MoonPies in Mobile, communities all along the Gulf Coast have their own way of marking Carnival season.

The Fatted Ox

The persistent drought is raising questions about how the Mississippi River is managed — both upstream and down.

While cargo traffic upriver has gotten lots of attention, the drought is creating a different set of problems downriver at the mouth of the Mississippi, where saltwater has encroached.

An old-fashioned staff river gauge behind the New Orleans district office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows the Mississippi is running just shy of 6 feet above sea level at the river bend.

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And the widow of a murdered Mississippi civil rights leader will help open the inaugural ceremony today. President Obama selected activist Myrlie Evers-Williams to deliver the invocation. She's the first woman and the first layperson to have the honor.

It's been only a few years since Congress granted the federal government the power to approve how tobacco products are made and sold in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration's new Center for Tobacco Products, established under a 2009 law that gives the agency jurisdiction over tobacco, must review all new cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, as well as any changes to existing brands.

But the agency has yet to clear any products under the new system, and some cigarette makers are frustrated by the backlog of applications.

Inside a modest storefront in Loxley, Ala., 18-year-old Maria Lola Melisio points out the Mexican spices and other products for sale in her mother's market.

"There are the leaves where you make your tamales — you roll them up in that," she says.

Melisio has long dark curls and is wearing a houndstooth scarf in support of the Alabama Crimson Tide. When she was 7 years old, she entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico with her mother, and still has a scar on her back from crawling under the border fence. It's a story she's kept secret until now.

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There's mixed reaction this afternoon to the news that BP has agreed to a deal with federal authorities to pay $4.5 billion in criminal and civil penalties related to the 2010 Gulf Oil spill.

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And now on to the biggest state that is really a contested battleground. I mean, we assume New York and California are barely contested by Republicans and Texas is assumed to go to Republican.

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Texas, yeah.

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State-mandated segregation is a thing of the past in Alabama, but the state's antiquated 1901 constitution paints a different picture. On Tuesday, Alabama voters will decide whether to strip language from the state's governing document that calls for poll taxes and separate schools for "white and colored."

In 2004, voters rejected an amendment to purge those remnants of Jim Crow from the constitution by fewer than 2,000 votes.

'We've Got To Move Forward'

Republican Roy Moore, Alabama's controversial "Ten Commandments Judge," is back on the ballot this year, running for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court — despite being removed from that office nearly a decade ago.

In a state as red as they come, he is facing last-minute Democratic challenger Bob Vance, who is reaching out to moderate Republicans turned off by Moore's politics.

Fifty years ago — Oct. 1, 1962 — the first black student was admitted to the University of Mississippi, a bastion of the Old South.

The town of Oxford erupted. It took some 30,000 U.S. troops, federal marshals and national guardsmen to get James Meredith to class after a violent campus uprising. Two people were killed and more than 300 injured. Some historians say the integration of Ole Miss was the last battle of the Civil War.

It was a high-stakes showdown between President Kennedy and Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett.

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Mitt Romney's released a new ad - low-tech and simple, the jacket is off, no tie, as he looks at the camera and says he feels compassion for struggling Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

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It can be lonely being a Democrat in the Deep South. Just ask Steve Wilson.

The young lawyer was a first-time delegate at the Democratic National Convention, but it's not something he brags about back home in Meridian, Miss.

"I don't talk about it," he says. "It's the elephant in the room, so to speak. Most of my friends are Republican, I think, but I just don't bring it up."

That climate can make it hard to recruit viable Democratic candidates in the Deep South — once a solidly Democratic region that is now reliably Republican.

Seventy-five years ago, Key Underwood and his raccoon-hunting dog Troop had a connection. Years of training and a deep relationship make human and canine a seamless hunting unit. The two can share a special bond.

So when old Troop died, Underwood buried him on the crest of a hill hidden away in the lush countryside near Cherokee, Ala. It was Underwood's favorite hunting spot. He marked the grave with an old chimney stone he chiseled with a hammer and screwdriver.

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Now, the effects of this slow-moving storm are being felt well beyond Louisiana. NPR's Debbie Elliot is in Gulf Port, Mississippi.

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All the dry weather means there's less water flowing through the once mighty river into the Gulf of Mexico, and low outflow means saltwater from the Gulf is creeping in.

Some Louisiana cities have already begun purchasing drinking water. Now New Orleans is at risk.

A power struggle on the Louisiana Supreme Court is headed to federal court this week. Lawyers are seeking to reopen an old voting rights case that gave the Deep South state its first black Supreme Court justice. What's at stake in the racially charged fight is whether Louisiana will now have its first African-American chief justice.

New Orleans now has the highest per capita murder rate in the country. Most of the killings are concentrated in the city's poorest neighborhoods — places like Central City, just a few blocks north of the stately mansions that line St. Charles Avenue.

The city's mayor is launching a new program aimed at cracking what he describes as a deeply rooted culture of violence. But victims complain that a failed criminal justice system has left the streets to vigilante justice, with innocent residents caught in the crossfire.

A Wounded Neighborhood

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New Orleans became a blank slate after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. And ever since, entrepreneurs have rushed in to experiment with new ideas for building and running a city.

Among them is a startup called Neighborland.com, a social media tool for sharing ideas to make your neighborhood better. After signing in to Neighborland, you can find your neighborhood and post your idea. The posts all start with "I want," and you fill in the rest.

A new Mississippi law requires doctors who perform abortions in the state to be board-certified OB-GYNs. They also must have privileges to admit patients at a local hospital.

The law is regulatory in nature, but at a bill-signing ceremony in April, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was clear about the intent.

"We have an opportunity today with the signing of this bill to end abortion in Mississippi," he said.

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