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).

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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.

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Around the Nation
3:47 am
Wed May 14, 2014

Too Young To Smoke, But Not To Pick Tobacco

Eddie Ramirez, 15, outside his mobile home in Snow Hill, N.C. He's been working in tobacco fields during the summer for several years.
Will Michaels for NPR

Originally published on Wed May 14, 2014 9:30 am

Kids under 18 can't buy cigarettes in the U.S., but they can legally work in tobacco fields when they're as young as 12.

One of those kids is Eddie Ramirez, 15, who works the fields in the summer.

"It just sticks to my hand," he says of the plant. "It's really sticky, you know, and really yellow." It's nearly impossible to wash off, he says.

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Politics
3:23 am
Tue May 13, 2014

In Mississippi, A Tea Party Challenger Takes On A GOP Institution

Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel speaks to supporters in Jackson on Thursday. He is challenging Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in Cochran's bid for a seventh term.
Rogelio V. Solis AP

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 11:57 pm

The Tea Party Express bus tour made a recent swing through Mississippi, stopping on the lush grounds of the state Capitol in Jackson.

It's a strategic stop to rally support for a state senator who is giving longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran the re-election battle of his career. The Senate primary here is the latest episode in the national GOP power struggle between establishment forces and Tea Party upstarts.

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Around the Nation
4:03 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Dozens Dead And Communities Reeling As Storms Roil Deep South

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 11:38 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This South is coping with a third day of severe weather. More than 30 people in the region have been killed. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports the damage is widespread, reaching from Oklahoma to the Carolinas.

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Around the Nation
5:15 am
Mon April 28, 2014

Mississippi's Lone Abortion Clinic Fights To Remain Open

Jackson Women's Health Organization, located in an art deco section of Jackson, Miss., minutes from the state Capitol building, has long been a flashpoint in the abortion debate.
Debbie Elliot NPR

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 8:21 am

Mississippi's only abortion clinic is fighting to remain open in the face of ever-tightening state regulations. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans hears arguments Monday in a dispute over a state law that requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.

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Around the Nation
3:40 am
Wed April 16, 2014

As La. Coast Recedes, Battle Rages Over Who Should Pay

Man-made canals built for the oil and gas industry cut through wetland. The industry argues those canals aren't to blame for coastal erosion.
Robert F. Bukaty AP

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 4:33 pm

Louisiana's coast is disappearing at the rate of about a football field an hour. Since the 1930s, the Gulf of Mexico has swallowed up an area the size of Delaware.

You can see the water encroaching in Delacroix in St. Bernard Parish, less than an hour southeast of New Orleans. Here, a narrow crescent of land known locally as the "end of the world" is where the road abruptly comes to a dead end; in the distance, you see the tops of now-submerged trees.

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News
4:30 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Paula Deen's Restaurant, Site Of Seafood And Slurs, Shuts Down

Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 6:18 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Another chapter today in the saga of Southern food celebrity Paula Deen. Bubba's Seafood & Oyster House has closed its doors. That's the Savannah, Georgia, restaurant she owns along with her brother. It was the center of a controversy last year that cost Deen part of her lucrative food empire after she admitted under oath that she had used a racial slur. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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Remembering The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
6:01 pm
Wed March 26, 2014

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Brings 'Bad Juju' And Pain 25 Years Later

Scott Pegau, a scientist at the Prince William Sound Science Center, studies the effects of spilled oil on the environment in Cordova, Alaska.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 9:54 pm

At Ross Mullins' home in Cordova, Alaska, you have to slam the front door extra hard to make it close. The former commercial fisherman lives in a small wood-frame house that's in need of repair. Some of the windows are cracked and he leaves the water faucets dripping to protect uninsulated pipes from the harsh Alaskan winter.

When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground and started leaking oil 25 years ago, the disaster drastically changed the fishing industry in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Mullins has never recovered from that blow.

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Business
3:35 am
Mon March 3, 2014

E-Cigarette Critics Worry New Ads Will Make 'Vaping' Cool For Kids

E-cigarettes was a $2 billion industry last year and it's expected to hit $5 billion this year.
Jim Watson AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 5, 2014 5:30 pm

Electronic cigarette makers are getting bold with their advertising, using provocative new print ads and celebrity endorsements on TV. But public health advocates say these images are luring kids to hook them on nicotine.

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Law
4:14 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Face Of Katrina Recovery Found Guilty Of Corruption Charges

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 8:00 pm

Wednesday in New Orleans, a federal jury convicted former Mayor Ray Nagin on 20 of 21 corruption counts. The two-term mayor was in office when Hurricane Katrina struck and was the public face of the city during the city's rebuilding. Federal prosecutors say that it was during this time he took bribes to steer rebuilding contracts to businessmen.

Law
4:51 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Family Feud Renews Over MLK's Prized Possessions

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 7:55 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. The children of Martin Luther King, Jr. are embroiled in yet another legal battle. As NPR's Debbie Elliot reports, the fight this time is over control of the late civil rights leader's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.

DEBBIE ELLIOT, BYLINE: Bernice King stood today in the pulpit of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

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The Salt
6:00 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

When His Pit Burned Down, Southern BBQ Master Took Hogs On Tour

Pitmaster Rodney Scott seasons a roasting hog behind a barbecue restaurant in Birmingham, Ala. Scott has been touring the South with a makeshift barbecue pit to raise money to rebuild his family's cookhouse after it burned down in November.
Debbie Elliott/NPR

Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 8:00 pm

In the tiny town of Hemingway, S.C., the Scott family has been selling barbecue out of its roadside general store for nearly a half-century. The smoky, vinegary pork has reached legendary status around the South.

So when the Scotts' wooden cookhouse went up in flames late last year, barbecue brethren cooked up a plan to get them back in business. What resulted is a part road trip, part old-fashioned barn-raising tour called Rodney Scott's Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour.

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Around the Nation
5:08 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Deep South, Meet Deep Freeze

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 6:55 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Deep South is in a deep freeze. Snow, sleet and freezing rain have gripped a region more accustomed to sun and surf. As a result, roads are a mess and from South Louisiana to the Carolina coast, classes are cancelled, airplanes are grounded, and businesses and government offices are closed.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: In Birmingham, Alabama today, just getting around town is practically impossible.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

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Code Switch
3:07 am
Mon January 13, 2014

Decades Later, Desegregation Still On The Docket In Little Rock

Eight of the nine black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School walk from school to their waiting Army station wagon on Oct. 2, 1957.
Ferd Kaufman AP

Originally published on Mon January 13, 2014 1:23 pm

In Little Rock, Ark., on Monday, a federal judge is considering a deal that would end one of the longest-running and most notorious school desegregation cases in the country. The state, its largest school districts and lawyers representing black students have agreed to settle a complex lawsuit over unequal education.

Little Rock has long been the symbol of the South's violent reaction to Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that declared school segregation unconstitutional.

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Around the Nation
5:20 am
Sun January 12, 2014

A Black Church's Dilemma: Preserve A Building, Or Our Identity?

Centennial Baptist Church in Helena, Ark.
Dave Anderson

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 10:51 am

The towers framing the majestic roof of Centennial Baptist Church reach for the heavens near downtown Helena, Ark. The elaborate red brick church stands out in a neighborhood that's seen better days, given the boarded-up homes and businesses nearby.

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Number Of The Year
10:15 am
Sat December 21, 2013

For BP Cleanup, 2013 Meant 4.6 Million Pounds Of Oily Gunk

Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network holds a jar of tar balls.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Sat December 21, 2013 2:58 pm

As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year. They're numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we live in.

On a breezy December morning, a work crew is scouring the surf line on Grand Isle, La., scooping up tiny tar balls and collecting them in a basket.

Foreman LeRoy Irving keeps track of what the 14-person team has collected in a half-day. "If I had to guess, maybe 10 pounds," he says.

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