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.

One year ago, a car rammed into counterprotesters during a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Dozens of people were injured and paralegal and activist Heather Heyer was killed. Now, her mother is trying to fulfill a promise made at her funeral.

"They tried to kill my child to shut her up," Susan Bro told mourners last August. "Well, guess what? You just magnified her!"

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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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

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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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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.

On April 8, 1968, Coretta Scott King wore a black lace headscarf as she led a march through downtown Memphis. Three of her four children were at her side.

In Memphis and across the nation, thousands are gathering — and some are protesting — to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The day honors King's work, looks at his legacy and raises the question: What comes next?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It was a call for help from activists that took the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis in March 1968. Days later he would be fatally shot by James Earl Ray on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

But before the motel, the shooting, the riots and the mourning, there was the Memphis sanitation workers' strike.

King broke away from his work on the Poor People's Campaign to travel from Atlanta to Tennessee and help energize the strikers — his last cause for economic justice.

Couples – gay or straight — looking for a marriage license in Pike County, Ala. won't get one from local probate judge Wes Allen.

"We have not issued any marriage licenses since Feb. 9, 2015," Allen says.

That's when a federal judge struck down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage. The state's then-Chief Justice Roy Moore told local officials they weren't bound by the federal court ruling. That threw Alabama's marriage license system into chaos. Some offices closed altogether.

For Allen, the decision came down to his religious beliefs.

Remember how happy you were as a kid to hear the distant music of the ice cream truck get louder as it drove closer to your block?

Residents of New Orleans would get that feeling when they heard the song of local produce vendor Mr. Okra, who drove up and down the streets of the city, hawking his wares.

"I have the mango, I have spinach, I have yellow squash, corn on the cob," he'd chant in rhythm from a PA system attached to the roof of his bright red pick-up truck. "I have eggplant, I have onion, I have garlic."

About 10 miles off the Alabama coast, Ben Raines gently falls backward from a boat into the Gulf of Mexico, a scuba tank strapped to his back and handsaw on his belt. He's on a mission to collect cypress samples from 60 feet below.

"We're going to cut some pieces as if we were in a forest on land," says Raines, an environmental reporter with AL.com.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Edgar Ray Killen, the former Ku Klux Klansman responsible for a notorious civil rights era murder, has died in a Mississippi prison. Killen orchestrated the killings of three Freedom Summer workers in Neshoba County, Miss. in 1964, a crime that shocked the nation and acted as a catalyst for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A Louisiana state legislator wants to cut off tax breaks and other funding for the state's only NFL franchise, the New Orleans Saints.

State Rep. Kenny Havard, a Republican, objects to player protests during the pregame national anthem. He plans to propose an amendment to strip any state funding that benefits the Saints, including free rental of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, their home venue.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opens Saturday in Jackson as a testament to the state's complicated, often dark, racial and political history. This week, it became the setting of its own political dust-up, but organizers hope to stay focused on the museum's message.

Democratic Reps. John Lewis of Georgia and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi announced earlier this week that they would not attend the opening after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant extended an invitation to President Trump, who attended Saturday.

Even in Alabama ZIP codes where Donald Trump dominated in 2016, there are lots of campaign signs that say "GOP for Jones." That is Doug Jones, the Democrat opposing Republican candidate Roy Moore in next week's special election for the U.S. Senate.

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The modern farm-to-table movement has renewed interest in heirloom fruits and vegetables. But long before the trend, John Coykendall has been on a mission to preserve rare heirloom seeds and document their heritage.

"We lost so much over time. That's why it's so important now to save what's left," says Coykendall, the master gardener at the luxurious mountain retreat Blackberry Farm in his native Tennessee.

It has been a quarter of a century since reliably red Alabama elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. But Democrats see an opening in the upcoming special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' old seat because of the controversial record of Republican candidate Roy Moore, which includes twice being removed from public office.

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Let's meet the two Republicans who are running for U.S. Senate in Alabama. Their runoff election is Tuesday. It's a race that's drawn outsized money and attention. And President Trump has endorsed Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year.

The Republican Party's infighting is on full display in Alabama ahead of next week's Senate runoff — a race that's getting nastier by the day.

The devastation of Harvey has neighbors and strangers helping one another. Brigades of volunteers have come to Texas. They've loaded up their boats for rescues and packed trailers full of food and water to help people who no longer have homes.

In his hometown of Orange, Texas, Epi Mungui is overseeing a makeshift distribution center in the middle of a sweltering hot strip center parking lot.

Much of Beaumont, Texas, is an island, with major roads cut off by floodwaters.

John Livious is standing in front of a hotel, looking out as rescue trucks navigate the flooded road in. Conditions here are getting worse.

"Winds picking up. Rain getting heavier. Water rising. Very bad sight," he says. "Wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Livious came here to escape rising water in Houston early Sunday. Evacuating was an easy call, he says.

Thousands of people quietly amassed on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville on Wednesday night for an unannounced candlelight vigil.

A soft glow illuminated the Rotunda – the iconic historic building at the heart of the university.

After a dark week in the city, it was a peaceful protest intended to counter a weekend of deadly violence sparked by a white supremacist rally.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Life in Charlottesville, Va., has been disrupted by the deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over the weekend. On the eve of the memorial for one of the victims, counterprotester Heather Heyer, President Trump blamed those counterprotesters — what he called the "alt-left" – for stoking the violence.

After Trump's remarks, Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy had to control his anger. He says the president is showing where his loyalties lie.

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