Debbie Elliott

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South and occasionally guest-hosting NPR news programs. 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 – tornadoes, floods, and major hurricanes including Andrew, Katrina, and Harvey. She reported on the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, introducing NPR listeners to teenage boys orphaned in the disaster who were struggling to survive on their own.

She spent months exclusively reporting on 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. Her series "The Disappearing Coast" examined Louisiana's complicated relationship with the oil and gas industry, and the disaster'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 deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the mass murder of worshippers at a rural Texas church. She was part of the NPR team covering the impact of the mass shootings at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church and the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.

A particular focus for Elliott is exploring how Americans live through the prism of race, culture, and history. 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.

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

In 2018, she won a National Association of Black Journalists Salute to Excellence Award for a radio feature about Mississippi confronting its past with a new civil rights museum.

Elliott has followed national debates over immigration, healthcare, abortion, tobacco, voting rights, religious freedom, welfare reform, same-sex marriage, Confederate monuments, criminal justice, and policing in America. She reported on the tense aftermath of the Alton Sterling killing in Baton Rouge, when three law enforcement officers were killed in an ambush. She examined the obesity epidemic in Mississippi, a shortage of public defenders in Louisiana, the incarceration of girls in Florida, and a ground-breaking prisoner meditation program at Alabama's toughest lockup.

Elliott has profiled key figures in politics and the arts, including historian John Hope Franklin, children's book author Eric Carle, musician Trombone Shorty, and former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. She covered the funerals of the King of the Blues, BB King, and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Her stories give a taste of southern culture, from the Nashville hot chicken craze to the traditions of Mardi Gras, and the roots of American music at Mississippi's new Grammy Museum. She's highlighted little-known treasures such as 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. NPR has sent her to cover a Super Bowl, the Summer Olympics, Bama football fans, and baseball spring training.

Elliott is a former host of NPR's All Things Considered on the Weekends, and a former Capitol Hill correspondent. She's covered Congressional and Presidential elections for nearly three decades.

Elliott was born in Atlanta, grew up in the Memphis area, and graduated from the University of Alabama. Prior to joining NPR, she worked in commercial and public radio in Alabama. Elliott lives in south Alabama with her husband, two children, and a pet beagle.

A memorial first installed in 2008 to mark the spot where 14-year-old Emmett Till was recovered from the Tallahatchie River in 1955 has been repeatedly vandalized — shot through with bullet holes. The sign was removed last month after an image surfaced of three white University of Mississippi fraternity brothers posing next to it with guns.

Civil rights tour guide Jessie Jaynes-Diming says it was painful to see.

"It would be the same thing if I had a Bible up there, or if I had the flag up there and you shot it up," she says.

The Mississippi ICE raids swept up nearly 700 undocumented workers from several food processing plants last week. Among those stripped away from their jobs and arrested was Angel Lopez's father.

"These past few days have just been hard because I've had to stay strong for my family," Angel Lopez says.

The 15-year-old and his two younger brothers were all born in the U.S. Their parents entered the country illegally from Guatemala 18 years ago and settled in Mississippi.

Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman is sitting in a rocking chair on a farmhouse porch in the hills of rural east Tennessee. She's granting a rare interview on the farm she bought 25 years ago to use as a retreat to train a new generation of activists.

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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.

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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.

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."

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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.

"Everywhere you turn and go you see some kind of destruction," says the town's mayor, Bo Patterson. "Whether it was wind damage, whether it was water, one of the two."

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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