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.

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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.

"Sheriff put the handcuffs on me and took me to the back," Norris recalls. "I was like, 'Something ain't right.' "

Henderson spent the next 27 years in prison until a judge released him.

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."

Friends and family of people who live in the Florida panhandle are still trying to find out if their loved ones survived Hurricane Michael. The mission has been hampered by heavily damaged infrastructure and fractured communication systems.

Volunteer rescuer George Ruiz spent Thursday trying to locate people who had not been heard from since the devastating storm.

"It's been a good day," says Ruiz, retired from the U.S. Coast Guard. "I've done about 32 calls so far."

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.

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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Charlottesville has long been known known as a charming college town — home to the University of Virginia and its founder Thomas Jefferson. After a deadly clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters on Aug. 12 last year, Charlottesville has become shorthand for racial strife.

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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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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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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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.

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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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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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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