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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Election 2012
9:59 am
Tue November 6, 2012

Ohio And Florida: Checking In With Two Key States

Originally published on Tue November 6, 2012 12:18 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. People have been joking for weeks that the candidates are actually running for president of Ohio. That's how vital the state is, but here's a reminder about the electoral map. It is at least theoretically possible for either candidate to lose Ohio and still reach 270 electoral votes by winning some combination of other states. Many of those combinations include Florida.

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Election 2012
8:51 am
Tue November 6, 2012

Update From Fla.: Poised For Challenges

Originally published on Tue November 6, 2012 12:18 pm

It's at least theoretically possible for either candidate to lose the vital state of Ohio and still reach 270 electoral votes by winning some combination of other states. Many of those combinations include Florida — infamous for voting irregularities in 2000.

U.S.
5:04 am
Fri November 2, 2012

Ala. Racist Language Measure Draws Unexpected Foes

Alabama's Constitution still includes language referring to poll taxes and segregated schools. Voters are poised to decide on an amendment to excise the outdated lines, but some African-American leaders in the state are opposing the change.
Dave Martin AP

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 1:20 pm

State-mandated segregation is a thing of the past in Alabama, but the state's antiquated 1901 constitution paints a different picture. On Tuesday, Alabama voters will decide whether to strip language from the state's governing document that calls for poll taxes and separate schools for "white and colored."

In 2004, voters rejected an amendment to purge those remnants of Jim Crow from the constitution by fewer than 2,000 votes.

'We've Got To Move Forward'

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Statewide Races
6:18 am
Sat October 27, 2012

The 'Ten Commandments Judge' Wants His Seat Back

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, known as the "Ten Commandments Judge," makes an appearance at a Tea Party rally in Mobile. The Republican is running for chief justice again despite being removed from the office nearly 10 years ago for defying a federal court order to remove a massive Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama judicial building.
Debbie Elliott/NPR

Originally published on Sat October 27, 2012 9:26 pm

Republican Roy Moore, Alabama's controversial "Ten Commandments Judge," is back on the ballot this year, running for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court — despite being removed from that office nearly a decade ago.

In a state as red as they come, he is facing last-minute Democratic challenger Bob Vance, who is reaching out to moderate Republicans turned off by Moore's politics.

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Race
3:30 am
Mon October 1, 2012

Integrating Ole Miss: A Transformative, Deadly Riot

Meredith, center with briefcase, is escorted to the University of Mississippi campus by U.S. marshals on Oct. 1, 1962.
AP

Originally published on Tue October 2, 2012 12:07 pm

Fifty years ago — Oct. 1, 1962 — the first black student was admitted to the University of Mississippi, a bastion of the Old South.

The town of Oxford erupted. It took some 30,000 U.S. troops, federal marshals and national guardsmen to get James Meredith to class after a violent campus uprising. Two people were killed and more than 300 injured. Some historians say the integration of Ole Miss was the last battle of the Civil War.

It was a high-stakes showdown between President Kennedy and Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett.

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Election 2012
4:50 am
Thu September 27, 2012

Romney Also Campaigns In Buckeye State

Originally published on Thu September 27, 2012 7:12 am

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's swing through Ohio took him from the suburbs of Columbus through parched cornfields and pumpkin patches to industrial corridors near Cleveland and Toledo. Romney says his policies will make things better for struggling Americans.

Election 2012
5:15 am
Wed September 26, 2012

Obama, Romney Campaign In Must-Win Ohio

Originally published on Wed September 26, 2012 10:36 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has delivered a constant stream of criticism of President Obama, but he still confronts Republican voters who haven't heard enough.

GREENE: On a hidden videotape revealed this month, Romney was asked why he didn't hammer President Obama harder. He explained that he's trying to win over people who voted for the president in 2008.

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Politics
3:24 pm
Wed September 19, 2012

Deep South Democrats Seek Path Back To Relevance

Albert N. Gore Jr., a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, speaks at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., on Aug. 2. Gore is running against incumbent Republican Roger Wicker. He says there should have been younger people interested in taking on Wicker — "but they didn't want to fight."
Rogelio V. Solis AP

Originally published on Wed September 19, 2012 8:09 pm

It can be lonely being a Democrat in the Deep South. Just ask Steve Wilson.

The young lawyer was a first-time delegate at the Democratic National Convention, but it's not something he brags about back home in Meridian, Miss.

"I don't talk about it," he says. "It's the elephant in the room, so to speak. Most of my friends are Republican, I think, but I just don't bring it up."

That climate can make it hard to recruit viable Democratic candidates in the Deep South — once a solidly Democratic region that is now reliably Republican.

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Dead Stop
3:58 am
Mon September 3, 2012

A Resting Place For Hunting Hounds In Alabama

Franky Hatton and Cletis pose in front of the gravestones of Hatton's champion coon hounds at Coon Dog Cemetery near Cherokee, Ala.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 6:15 am

Seventy-five years ago, Key Underwood and his raccoon-hunting dog Troop had a connection. Years of training and a deep relationship make human and canine a seamless hunting unit. The two can share a special bond.

So when old Troop died, Underwood buried him on the crest of a hill hidden away in the lush countryside near Cherokee, Ala. It was Underwood's favorite hunting spot. He marked the grave with an old chimney stone he chiseled with a hammer and screwdriver.

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Around the Nation
5:53 am
Tue August 28, 2012

Gulf Coast Hunkers Down For Isaac's Wind And Rain

Originally published on Tue August 28, 2012 9:32 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

Residents of New Orleans and other cities are performing the balancing act that is an essential part of life along the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes are such a regular feature that you can't let them disrupt your life too much.

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Around the Nation
4:06 pm
Tue August 21, 2012

Saltwater Invades Mississippi River

Water gets churned up at the end of a dredging pipeline connected to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tenn., on Monday. The river has seen water levels from Illinois to Louisiana plummet because of drought conditions in the past three months. When there's less flow coming downstream, saltwater from the Gulf wedges its way in.
Adrian Sainz AP

Originally published on Tue August 21, 2012 8:25 pm

All the dry weather means there's less water flowing through the once mighty river into the Gulf of Mexico, and low outflow means saltwater from the Gulf is creeping in.

Some Louisiana cities have already begun purchasing drinking water. Now New Orleans is at risk.

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Around the Nation
3:33 am
Tue August 14, 2012

La. Court In Racially Charged Power Struggle, Again

Justice Bernette Johnson is at the center of a legal battle over whether she will be the next chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Louisiana Supreme Court AP

Originally published on Tue August 14, 2012 5:00 am

A power struggle on the Louisiana Supreme Court is headed to federal court this week. Lawyers are seeking to reopen an old voting rights case that gave the Deep South state its first black Supreme Court justice. What's at stake in the racially charged fight is whether Louisiana will now have its first African-American chief justice.

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Around the Nation
3:09 am
Thu July 5, 2012

New Orleans Struggles With Murder Rate, And Trust

Sgt. Miro Brekalo talks with residents in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood, as other officers walk their beat. Their goal isn't only to stop crime; it's also to connect with citizens who are often reluctant to report crimes.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Thu July 5, 2012 10:25 pm

New Orleans now has the highest per capita murder rate in the country. Most of the killings are concentrated in the city's poorest neighborhoods — places like Central City, just a few blocks north of the stately mansions that line St. Charles Avenue.

The city's mayor is launching a new program aimed at cracking what he describes as a deeply rooted culture of violence. But victims complain that a failed criminal justice system has left the streets to vigilante justice, with innocent residents caught in the crossfire.

A Wounded Neighborhood

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Business
4:49 am
Tue July 3, 2012

Airbus: 'The Time Is Right' To Open Alabama Plant

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 5:31 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Jobs and the economy are big issues in this election. And from Alabama, we have a story of jobs coming from overseas to the U.S. European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is making a bold move into North America to compete in the largest market in the world for passenger jets.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The firm will build its first U.S. assembly plant on the Gulf Coast in Mobile, Alabama. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports the region has been working for years to attract Airbus.

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NPR Cities: Urban Life In The 21st Century
4:33 pm
Mon July 2, 2012

Filling In New Orleans' Future, One Blank At A Time

Candy Chang, co-founder of the website Neighborland, writes on an art installation in New Orleans in April. As part of a public street art project that later became Neighborland, Chang put nametag-like stickers on empty New Orleans storefronts for residents to write ideas for improving the city.
Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

Originally published on Mon July 2, 2012 9:19 pm

New Orleans became a blank slate after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. And ever since, entrepreneurs have rushed in to experiment with new ideas for building and running a city.

Among them is a startup called Neighborland.com, a social media tool for sharing ideas to make your neighborhood better. After signing in to Neighborland, you can find your neighborhood and post your idea. The posts all start with "I want," and you fill in the rest.

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Health
3:44 pm
Fri June 29, 2012

Sole Abortion Clinic In Miss. Fights Law To Stay Open

Abortion opponents demonstrate outside Mississippi's only abortion clinic in Jackson.
Rogelio V. Solis AP

Originally published on Fri June 29, 2012 10:26 pm

A new Mississippi law requires doctors who perform abortions in the state to be board-certified OB-GYNs. They also must have privileges to admit patients at a local hospital.

The law is regulatory in nature, but at a bill-signing ceremony in April, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was clear about the intent.

"We have an opportunity today with the signing of this bill to end abortion in Mississippi," he said.

Read more
Media
5:47 am
Sun June 17, 2012

Like Good Bourbon, Magazine Is A Sip Of The South

David DiBenedetto, the editor-in-chief of Garden & Gun, holds an editorial meeting in the magazine's Charleston, S.C., offices.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Sun June 17, 2012 1:23 pm

Garden & Gun magazine bills itself as the "Soul of the South." In five short years, the up-and-coming magazine has amassed a dedicated following and picked up critical acclaim.

The cover of the summer issue of Garden & Gun entices you to hit a Southern road. A smiling young woman in skinny white jeans, a straw hat and wayfarers tucked into her pocket appears ready to jump into a vintage red Mercedes roadster, top down — all under a bright Carolina blue sky.

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Media
5:00 am
Thu June 14, 2012

'A Morning Ritual': New Orleans Fights For Its Paper

A New Orleans newspaper stand holds copies of Wednesday's Times-Picayune, which announced layoffs for 200 employees.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 7:07 am

What happens when a media company wants to take away your daily newspaper? In New Orleans, you take to the streets.

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The Salt
4:03 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Food Truck Cookbook Tracks Best Meals Served On Wheels

The crew of Shindigs sets up shop in a parking lot in Birmingham.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Fri June 8, 2012 6:59 pm

With recent news that even Paris has one, food trucks are certainly in vogue these days. In the U.S., they're now spreading from the hot scenes in Los Angeles and New York to smaller cities, like Milwaukee and Madison. Even school systems are jumping on the food truck bandwagon.

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Election 2012
4:30 pm
Tue May 8, 2012

Enthusiasm For Romney Runs Low In Fla. Panhandle

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds a rally in Pensacola, Fla., in January.
Emmanuel Dunand AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 7:07 pm

Now that former candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are endorsing Mitt Romney to be the Republican nominee for president, the GOP is working to get the rank and file to fall in line.

That's especially important in swing states like Florida. But in the primary, Romney struggled in the Panhandle of the Sunshine State — a bastion of conservative voters. And it might take more convincing for them to really get behind the former Massachusetts governor.

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The Disappearing Coast
6:17 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

Two Years Later, BP Spill Reminders Litter Gulf Coast

Pictured here on April 13, 2011, Barataria Bay — part of Louisiana's Barataria Basin — was one of the hardest hit areas in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Today, obvious signs of the spill have faded, but communities are still reeling from its effects.
Mario Tama Getty Images

It's been two years since the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 rig workers and unleashing the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The oil has long stopped flowing and BP spent billions of dollars to clean up oiled beaches and waterways, but the disaster isn't necessarily over.

Oil fouled some 1,100 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline, but today, in most spots, you can't see obvious signs of the spill. In Orange Beach, Ala., the clear emerald waters of the Gulf roll onto sugar-white sand beaches.

Read more
Law
3:38 am
Tue April 10, 2012

Federal Court To Weigh Graphic Cigarette Labels

This image provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows one of nine new warning labels it wants cigarette makers to use. Tobacco companies have sued, claiming the mandate is unconstitutional.
AP

Originally published on Tue April 10, 2012 8:09 am

The question of how far the government can go in forcing a business — in this case cigarette makers — to warn consumers about its product is before a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

The Food and Drug Administration wants large, graphic warning labels to scare smokers, but tobacco companies say that violates their right to free speech.

Read more
Around the Nation
4:00 am
Mon March 12, 2012

BP Settlement Lacks Enthusiasm Along Gulf Coast

Residents of the Gulf Coast are warily evaluating the BP settlement deal in the Deepwater Horizon case. Some were hurt during clean-up of the oil spill, others lost their businesses and still others lost family in the rig explosion. But they are coming to different conclusions about whether the deal is a good one.

Mitt Romney
6:20 am
Sun March 11, 2012

To Woo South, Romney Needs More Than A Twang

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson, Miss., on Friday. The former Massachusetts governor has skeptics in the Deep South.
Rogelio Solis AP

Originally published on Sun March 11, 2012 1:29 pm

Mitt Romney picked up some support in Saturday's contests, but there may be trouble lurking for him in the near future as the GOP race moves to the Deep South.

Despite his second-place finish in Kansas, Romney scored victories Saturday in caucuses in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He also won county conventions in Wyoming.

Tuesday's primaries are in Alabama and Mississippi, and the reddest of states are proving to be a tough sell for the former Massachusetts governor. He's trying his best to connect with the Republican base.

Read more
Around the Nation
4:24 pm
Sat March 3, 2012

Settlement Only The First Step In BP's Legal Woes

A cross with the words "Promises Made"-- referring to statements from BP and government officials — stands in front of a pile of crosses symbolizing things that were impacted by the spill, in a front yard in Grand Isle, La.
Patrick Semansky AP

Originally published on Sat March 3, 2012 5:09 pm

Oil giant BP has agreed to settle thousands of lawsuits stemming from its well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

The deal was announced late Friday and prompted a federal judge in New Orleans to postpone a Monday trial, but the proposed settlement solves only one piece of BP's legal exposure from the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

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