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).

Pages

Books
5:40 am
Mon May 4, 2015

A Town Divided Over The Next Chapter Of An Iconic Harper Lee Book

Every spring, local residents have staged a play based on To Kill a Mockingbird in this courthouse in Monroeville, Ala.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 12:13 pm

Business is brisk at the Ole Curiosities and Book Shoppe, a block off the town square in Monroeville, Ala.

Jennifer Brinkley and her friend Leigh Mikovch are at the counter, putting in a pre-order for Go Set a Watchman, the much anticipated forthcoming book from Harper Lee.

"We're big Harper Lee fans and To Kill a Mockingbird fans," Brinkley says.

Both are writers from Bowling Green, Ky. They're visiting Monroeville for the annual Alabama Writers Symposium. Brinkley says it will be meaningful to have the new book come from Lee's hometown.

Read more
Environment
5:54 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

5 Years After BP Oil Spill, Experts Debate Damage To Ecosystem

Fresh oil puddles on the white sand in Orange Beach, Ala., during the BP oil spill in 2010.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 12:23 am

At the Gulf State Park Pier in Orange Beach, Ala., Wetzel Wood casts his fishing line into the rough surf of the Gulf of Mexico. He pulls his bait, a cigar minnow, through the water just beyond where the waves break for the shore.

"On a good day you'd catch king mackerel, Spanish mackerel," he says. Wood first learned to fish at the pier with his grandfather in 1969. "I've seen a lot of different things out here. It's been wonderful."

Read more
U.S.
3:47 am
Mon April 20, 2015

5 Years After BP Oil Spill, Effects Linger And Recovery Is Slow

Pelicans are nesting at Queen Bess Island in Barataria Bay. Five years ago, the nesting season here was marred by the oil gushing out of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 7:04 pm

Five years ago, BP's out-of-control oil well deep in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. Eleven workers were killed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. But it was more than a deadly accident — the blast unleashed the nation's worst offshore environmental catastrophe.

In the spring and summer of 2010, oil gushed from the Macondo well for nearly three months. More than 3 million barrels of Louisiana light crude fouled beaches and wetlands from Texas to Florida, affecting wildlife and livelihoods.

Today, the spill's impacts linger.

Read more
Code Switch
8:06 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 10:52 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?

Read more
Around the Nation
4:54 pm
Wed March 11, 2015

Investigation Continues Into Crash Of Blackhawk Military Helicopter In Fla.

Originally published on Wed March 11, 2015 10:40 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Read more
Race
8:10 am
Sun March 8, 2015

Obama Evokes The 'Eternal Struggle' In Selma

Originally published on Sun March 8, 2015 1:08 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Around the Nation
6:07 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 8:31 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.

Read more
Code Switch
7:23 pm
Wed February 18, 2015

Ala. Governor Apologizes To Indian Government In 'Excessive Force' Case

Sureshbhai Patel lies in a bed at Huntsville Hospital in Huntsville, Ala., on Feb. 7. Patel was severely injured when police threw him to the ground.
Chirag Patel AP

Originally published on Wed February 18, 2015 8:11 pm

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley apologized on Tuesday to the government of India for an incident, captured on a squad car's dashboard camera, in which officers slammed an Indian man to the ground.

Read more
Law
6:26 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

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

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Read more
Around the Nation
6:04 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

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

Originally published on Tue February 10, 2015 8:53 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.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Read more
Around the Nation
5:16 pm
Mon February 9, 2015

Alabama Joins 36 States In Allowing Same-Sex Marriage

Originally published on Mon February 9, 2015 6:27 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Read more
Law
4:28 pm
Wed January 28, 2015

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

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 1:16 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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.

Read more
Law
4:28 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

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

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 11:25 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Read more
Code Switch
11:45 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 12:05 pm

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.

Read more
Around the Nation
5:20 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 5:04 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.

Read more
Politics
12:15 pm
Tue November 4, 2014

Senate Control Could Ride On The South's Tight Races

Originally published on Tue November 4, 2014 12:35 pm

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

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Read more
Politics
4:22 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 8:13 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.

Read more
NPR Story
5:18 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 7:45 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.

Read more
Around the Nation
6:29 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 Wed September 17, 2014 12:28 am

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.

Read more
Law
4:36 pm
Thu September 4, 2014

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

Originally published on Thu September 4, 2014 6:51 pm

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

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Read more
Law
4:19 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 7:04 pm

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

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Read more
Around the Nation
3:33 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 4:04 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."

Read more
Law
4:18 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Federal Judge Strikes Down Alabama Abortion Law

Originally published on Mon August 4, 2014 7:09 pm

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

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Read more
Law
4:11 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Corruption Convictions Spell 10 Year Sentence For Former NOLA Mayor

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 10:39 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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.

Read more
Politics
4:15 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 9:30 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Read more
Politics
4:20 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

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

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 7:08 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.

Read more
Code Switch
2:59 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 9:37 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

Read more
Code Switch
4:32 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 6:50 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."

Read more
Politics
4:08 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

In Mississippi, A Heated Senate Primary Spills Into Runoff

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 7:18 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.

Read more
Politics
5:17 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 7:12 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.

Read more

Pages