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.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now to a shocking attack here in the United States. Vice President Joe Biden was in Baton Rouge last night, speaking at a community memorial service for the three Louisiana law enforcement officers gunned down last week. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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Just days after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., last year, the pews at Emanuel AME were filled for Sunday service. A black cloth was draped over the chair where Emanuel's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, should have been sitting.

Holding worship in the church sanctuary — while its basement was still a fresh crime scene — served as a way for the congregation to move forward while acknowledging the deaths of nine of its own.

It's been nearly a year since a mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., shocked the nation.

"We woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken," said Gov. Nikki Haley the morning after a gunman killed nine worshippers in what authorities describe as a race-based attack.

At the time, officials struggled to make sense of the crime that unfolded on June 17 during an intimate evening Bible study at Emanuel AME Church.

Transgender rights are getting a new focus in the civil rights standoff that emerged this week between the Obama administration and the state of North Carolina.

It's over a law that requires transgender people to use public restrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate.

Transgender activists were part of the movement to make same-sex marriage the law of the land, and have long been trying to get people to understand who they are. In Mobile, Ala., LGBTQ advocate Lane Galbraith says he's busy now dealing with discrimination issues.

Nashville Hot Chicken is showing up everywhere lately, from fast-food marquees to trendy restaurant menus. But to find the real thing, you might start in a nondescript strip mall on the northeast side of Nashville, Tenn.

Here at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, people line up long before the doors open to get their fix.

"Need my hot chicken," says construction worker Jose Rodriguez as he approaches the kitchen window to place his order. "I'm going to get two hot of the breast quarters."

Donald Trump's enduring appeal in the Republican presidential contest has the GOP in a quandary, as it's forced to contend with voters fed up with party politics.

Some 50 years ago, another vociferous candidate put the scare in traditional power brokers. George Wallace fired up crowds with a similar anti-establishment message, and drew protests as passionate as are being seen at Trump's rallies today. Wallace also became a face of racial tension in America as the leading symbol for segregation in the 1960s.

At a recent rally on the steps of the Mississippi state Capitol in Jackson, dozens of protesters shouted "Bring it down! Bring it down!" in opposition to the flag waving atop the building.

Mississippi is the only remaining U.S. state that still has obvious Confederate imagery in its state flag. The upper left corner, or canton, depicts the Confederate battle emblem — a red background with a blue "X" lined with white stars.

The presidential contest moves South on Super Tuesday, March 1. The region is considered a firewall for Hillary Clinton because of her strong support among African-American voters, a key bloc of Southern Democrats.

Greensboro, Ala. is in the heart of the black belt — named for its rich black soil and known as a place where the right to vote is sacred.

"I'm a foot soldier," said 80-year-old Theresa Burroughs. "Every time there's a vote, I go."

Some $25 billion is headed to the five Gulf states that were devastated in the 2010 BP oil disaster. Just a fraction of the government fines and court settlements have been paid — but not all of it will end up repairing the damaged ecosystem.

New Orleans is famous for its rollicking carnival to celebrate Mardi Gras, but the party has deep roots in another Gulf Coast city, Mobile, Ala.

And in Mobile, carnival rules this time of year, even in the city council chambers. "Good morning and happy Mardi Gras," says city council president Gina Gregory as she welcomes masked and costumed revelers for a special proclamation marking 185 years of street celebrations in Mobile.

When you enter the lobby of the Orleans Public Defender's Office, expect a bit of a wait, because receptionist Chastity Tillman will likely be busy on the phone.

"The jail calls. We get them every second," Tillman says.

It's the end of an era in Charleston, S.C. One of the longest-serving mayors in the country, Joe Riley, is retiring after 40 years in office. His tenure has seen the transformation of downtown Charleston from a decaying urban center to a top cultural destination.

On a tour of downtown, you can literally see Riley's imprint on the Charleston landscape, down to the most subtle of details – from the paint color at City Hall to the color of the driveway bricks.

"That's Riley Red," he says with a laugh. "It's not because of my hard head, that's just the color."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Laid off steelworker Siegfried Powell hefts cardboard boxes from a food pantry set up by his local United Steelworkers Union in Birmingham, Ala.

"Come on, sweetheart. Grab you a bag of potatoes," Powell says as he takes a load of groceries to the car for a family trying to stretch unemployment benefits.

About 1,100 people lost their jobs when U.S. Steel decided to permanently close a blast furnace that had been the bedrock of Birmingham's steel industry for nearly a century.

A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has anchored a New Orleans traffic circle for more than 130 years. But Lee Circle could soon be history.

The New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 Thursday to remove four prominent Confederate monuments as a public nuisance.

The decision came after heated debate over what the memorials represent.

"If anybody wins here it will be the South, because it is finally rising now that we're taking these down," said City Council President Jason Williams.

Police in Birmingham, Ala., are investigating a fight that broke out during a City Council meeting Tuesday.

A routine meeting whose agenda included installing new fire hydrants and authorizing routine contracts erupted in fisticuffs between Birmingham Mayor William Bell and council member Marcus Lundy. Each has accused the other of assault.

Birmingham police Chief A.C. Roper said it's not clear who might be charged until an investigation is complete. He added, "Violence is never the answer regardless of the location."

A Southern cooking pioneer has died in her native Tennessee. Phila Rawlings Hach hosted the first television cooking show in the South, evangelizing the virtues of Southern cuisine. She went on to become a cookbook author, restaurateur, innkeeper and catering chef to politicians and military flights.

Hach died Wednesday at the age of 89, according to her son, Joe Hach.

Sixty years ago Tuesday, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. A police officer made the arrest that set off the modern civil rights movement. Today police recruits in Alabama's capital city are being schooled in that history in a course designed to eliminate bias in policing.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards beat Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter in Saturday's election, marking a change in the political landscape in the conservative South.

Edwards will be the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, where Republicans dominate politically.

You could almost have predicted the outcome of the race based on the candidates' election night parties. Sen. David Vitter was set up at a hotel near the airport, while John Bel Edwards lodged in the historic Monteleone Hotel in the French Quarter.

The state of Alabama is agreeing to make it easier for people to register to vote when they get a driver's license after the U.S. Justice Department pushed for compliance with the federal motor-voter law.

The two sides reached a settlement to resolve problems with voter-registration procedures at state motor-vehicle agencies.

Editor's note: This post contains a word you might find deeply offensive.

Thanks to the legacy of Rosa Parks, people of all races can sit where they wish on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., today. But that's only if there's a seat, or even a bus going their way.

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. On Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you four items.

From Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin:

Friends, family and fellow activists paid homage to late civil rights leader Julian Bond on Tuesday night at a memorial service at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. The former NAACP chairman died in August at 75 after a brief illness.

Bond's widow, Pamela Horowitz, welcomed the invited guests — a diverse group that included civil rights activists, members of Congress and college students — and thanked them for honoring his mission and "how you will continue to honor him by doing the work that consumed his life."

It was 60 years ago this week that an all-white jury acquitted two white men in the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy visiting Mississippi from Chicago.

The case shocked the nation — drawing attention to the brutal treatment of African-Americans in the Deep South, and the failure of the justice system. The men later confessed to killing Till for whistling at a white woman.

The ingredients for a Southern campaign swing? Hometown endorsements, a stadium and Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring from the loudspeakers.

Donald Trump had them all when he took the stage at a recent stop in Mobile to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama."

"Unbelievable," he said, seeing the estimated 30,000 people who came to hear his pitch.

"My whole energy and my whole being is going to be to make our country rich and to make our country great again," he said.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Angela Chalk lives right in the middle of New Orleans, in the 7th Ward. Her house withstood Hurricane Katrina's pounding winds, but not the flood that followed when the federal levee system failed.

"I had 6 feet of water," she says, pointing to a watermark on her wall.

And she wasn't alone. About 80 percent of the city's homes were inundated with floodwater. It was weeks before the water receded and Chalk was able to return home.

When she did, what she found was a crusty brown mess.

The people of Bayou la Batre, Ala., say you know their town by the four seasons.

"Shrimp, fish, crab and oyster," says Stephanie Nelson Bosarge. "That's your four seasons."

Bosarge grew up here in a house less than a thousand feet from the water — one of nine kids, the fourth generation to work in the seafood industry.

Today all that's left of the house is a concrete slab. Grass and weeds are creeping up over what's left of the oyster run, where a conveyor belt once carried shells between the shuckers.

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