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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Race
8:15 pm
Mon January 13, 2014

Nearly Six Decades Later, Integration Remains A Work In Progress

Students in Central High School walk through the hallways between classes.
Debbie Elliot NPR

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 1:30 pm

A federal judge in Little Rock, Ark., approved a settlement today that ends decades of litigation over school desegregation there.

The city was one of the first tests of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Brown v. Board of Education, when President Eisenhower sent federal troops to integrate Central High School in 1957.

Just about anyone you speak to about the Little Rock desegregation case says it's time for the contentious and ongoing litigation to be over. But no one is really celebrating either.

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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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Code Switch
6:00 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

Rev. T.J. Jemison Remembered As Civil Rights Movement Pioneer

The Rev. T.J. Jemison escorts Mary Briscoe (left) and Sandra Ann Jones from jail in Baton Rouge, La., on April 4, 1960. The two had been in jail as a result of lunch counter sit-ins.
AP

Originally published on Fri November 22, 2013 7:21 pm

The state of Louisiana is paying tribute Friday to the Rev. T.J. Jemison, a strong and steady voice against unequal treatment for blacks in the Jim Crow South.

Jemison's body lay in repose at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, where Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said he will be remembered as one of the greats of the civil rights movement.

"He had such a heart and courage for justice," Landrieu said. "There are very few people in our state that will rise to that level of influence, and it is very appropriate that our Capitol was opened up for him today."

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Politics
6:01 pm
Thu October 31, 2013

A Clash Of Styles As GOP Factions Fight For Alabama District

Republican candidates Bradley Byrne and Dean Young are running in a special runoff election Tuesday to fill Alabama's 1st congressional district seat.
Phillip Rawls and Campaign of Dean Young AP

Voters in Alabama's 1st congressional district are getting a glimpse of the factions vying for control of the Republican Party as two GOP candidates face off in a special election Tuesday.

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Music News
2:03 pm
Thu October 10, 2013

A Young Torchbearer Lights The Way For New Orleans Music Students

Trombone Shorty, aka Troy Andrews, has started a foundation dedicated to music education in New Orleans.
Jonathan Mannion Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 8:33 pm

In New Orleans, it's cool to be in the high school band — especially when Trombone Shorty shows up in the band room.

The brass player and bandleader recently paid a visit to New Orleans' Warren Easton High School to work with band members. It's part of his work with the Trombone Shorty Foundation, a music education initiative.

"[Trombone Shorty] is, without a doubt, the role model for the next generation right now," says Bill Taylor, the foundation's executive director.

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Code Switch
7:51 am
Sun September 15, 2013

50 Years After The Bombing, Birmingham Still Subtly Divided

Investigators work outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., following an explosion that killed four young girls. Three Ku Klux Klansmen were convicted in the bombing years later.
AP

Originally published on Fri September 20, 2013 1:18 pm

Fifty years ago Sunday, a Ku Klux Klan bomb at a Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala., killed four black girls and sent shock waves throughout the country.

In Birmingham, the tragedy laid bare a deep rift.

Carolyn McKinstry, standing on the sidewalk outside 16th Street Baptist Church, remembers arriving for worship 50 years ago.

"It was Youth Day," she says. "We were excited because that meant we got to do everything. We sang, we ushered, we did everything."

Some of her Sunday school classmates had gone to the ladies' room to freshen up.

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Code Switch
3:04 am
Tue September 10, 2013

Congress Honors Victims Of Infamous Alabama Church Bombing

One man was convicted in the bombing in 1977, but more than two decades would pass before any other suspects were tried for murder.
AP

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 10:32 am

On Tuesday, Congress will bestow its highest civilian honor — posthumously — on the young victims of a deadly Alabama church bombing from the civil rights era.

The Congressional Gold Medals for Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley come 50 years after the black girls were killed by a Ku Klux Klan bomb.

Just as the federal recognition is long in coming, so was justice.

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Music
5:36 am
Sat September 7, 2013

A Children's Author Wrangles A Cowboy Soundtrack

Sandra Boynton's new children's album and songbook is titled Frog Trouble.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat September 7, 2013 6:11 pm

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Around the Nation
3:34 am
Thu August 29, 2013

Post-Katrina New Orleans A Story Of Modern Pioneering

Ronald Lewis, a resident of the Lower 9th Ward, says eight years after Hurricane Katrina, rebuilding his neighborhood is a story still in progress.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Thu August 29, 2013 10:44 am

It's been eight years to the day since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. To mark the anniversary, NPR revisits neighborhood activist and curator Ronald Lewis, a New Orleans resident whom Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep regularly checked in with in the months after the storm.

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Law
5:19 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

Suit In Alabama Seeks To Stop School Choice Law

Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen discusses a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Accountability Act on Monday. Cohen says all students in Alabama can't take advantage of the law.
Dave Martin AP

Originally published on Mon August 19, 2013 6:58 pm

Parents in some rural Alabama counties are asking a federal court to block a new state law that gives tax breaks to families who transfer out of failing schools. They argue that their children aren't getting a fair shot at a quality education.

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Nickel Tour: Get To Know Great Tour Guides
2:03 am
Wed August 14, 2013

The Vintage Cadillac With The Memphis Soundtrack

American Safari tour guide Tad Pierson stands beside his 1955 pink Cadillac. Visitors to Memphis can get a personalized tour that highlights the city's rich music heritage.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Wed August 14, 2013 9:16 am

In the town where I grew up — Memphis, Tenn. — Tad Pierson has made a career out of his love for cars and American music by working as a tour guide. We meet in the grand lobby of the Peabody Hotel, the downtown landmark famous for its ducks and Southern elegance. But it's also considered the starting point of the Mississippi Delta, a region steeped in the blues.

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Code Switch
4:48 am
Sat July 6, 2013

Remembering Birmingham's 'Dynamite Hill' Neighborhood

Three civil rights workers stand guard in front NAACP attorney Arthur Shores' house in Sept. 1963. The house was blasted by dynamite the night before.
AP

Originally published on Sat July 6, 2013 9:54 am

Long before the Civil Rights marches of 1963 thrust Birmingham, Ala. into the national spotlight, black families along one residential street were steadily chipping away at Jim Crow segregation laws — and paying a price for it. As part of our series looking back at the seminal events that changed the nation 50 years ago, NPR's Debbie Elliott paid a visit to Birmingham's Dynamite Hill.

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The Salt
11:57 am
Mon June 17, 2013

Spoken Dish Asks Southerners: What Is Your Food Identity?

Cornbread in a cast-iron skillet. A taste of home?
Todd Patterson iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 4:11 pm

Does cast-iron skillet cornbread, hot and crispy from the oven, transport you back to your grandma's kitchen? Do you cook with certain ingredients as a link to your roots in the South? If so, "A Spoken Dish" wants to hear your story.

The Southern Foodways Alliance is teaming up with Whole Foods Market and Georgia Organics in this video storytelling project as a way to celebrate and document food memories and rituals of the American South.

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News
6:11 am
Wed June 5, 2013

Fifty Years After Medgar Evers' Killing, The Scars Remain

Medgar Evers' widow, Myrlie, comforts the couple's 9-year-old son, Darrel, at her husband's funeral in Jackson, Miss., on June 15, 1963.
AP

Originally published on Wed June 5, 2013 9:20 am

For Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain NAACP leader Medgar Evers, the memories of 1963 are still raw.

Her family lived in terror behind the locked doors of their Jackson, Miss., home — a modest, three-bedroom, ranch-style house in one of the first new subdivisions built for African-Americans in Mississippi's segregated capital city. A back window in the tiny kitchen frames the backyard where Evers-Williams once grew rose bushes and a plum tree.

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Environment
6:13 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

Gulf Coast States Get Creative With BP Oil Spill Money

Tourists watch as workers clean oil from the sand along a strip of oil that washed up on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the Louisiana coast.
Dave Martin AP

Originally published on Wed May 29, 2013 11:29 am

Gulf Coast states are lining up to spend $1 billion from BP on coastal restoration. The money is part of BP's legal responsibility to restore the Gulf of Mexico's natural resources in the aftermath of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

But the nature of some of the state projects, including boat ramps and a beachfront hotel, is raising questions about just what counts as coastal restoration.

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Business
5:45 am
Thu May 9, 2013

Shell Digs Deep To Tap Into Lucrative Oil, Gas Reserves

Originally published on Thu May 9, 2013 5:56 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One reason the world is not yet running out of oil and gas is that energy companies keep finding ways to extract those resources from more and more difficult places, including far under the ocean. Royal Dutch Shell announced plans, yesterday, for the world's deepest offshore floating oil and gas facility.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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Author Interviews
3:28 am
Mon April 29, 2013

A Grieving Brother Finds Solace In His Sister's 'Small Town'

Brother and sister Rod Dreher and Ruthie Leming grew up in a small town in rural Louisiana. Dreher left the tightknit community to pursue a journalism career but returned home after Leming died of lung cancer in 2010.
Courtesy Rod Dreher

Originally published on Mon April 29, 2013 12:21 pm

When he was a teenager, journalist Rod Dreher couldn't wait to escape Louisiana. Now he has found his way home again in grief — after his sister's death from lung cancer. It was "in light" of that tragedy, Dreher says, that he discovered the value of community. It's the subject of his new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.

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Environment
6:43 pm
Wed March 20, 2013

Massive Sinkhole In Louisiana Baffles Officials

After the collapse of a salt mine in south Louisiana last year, a 9-acre sinkhole has flooded the area. It also caused gas and oil leaks, and local residents are fed up.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Louisiana officials are grappling with a giant sinkhole that's threatening a neighborhood. A salt mine collapsed last year, creating a series of problems regulators say they've never seen before, including tremors and oil and gas leaks and a sinkhole that now covers 9 acres.

Residents have been evacuated for more than seven months now and are losing patience.

Ernie Boudreaux lives in a trailer on Jambalaya Street in Bayou Corne, La. Strange things have been happening to his home, he says.

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