Debbie Elliott

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. 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 – including hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Harvey. She reported on the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, introducing NPR listeners to teenage boys orphaned in the disaster, struggling to survive on their own.

Elliott spent months covering 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. She launched the series "The Disappearing Coast," which examines the oil spill'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 the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the mass murder of worshippers at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. She was part of NPR's teams covering the mass shootings at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church and the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.

Elliott has followed national debates over immigration, healthcare, abortion, tobacco, voting rights, welfare reform, same-sex marriage, Confederate monuments, criminal justice and policing in America. She examined the obesity epidemic in Mississippi, a shortage of public defenders in Louisiana, a rise in the incarceration of girls in Florida and chronic inhumane conditions at state prisons in Alabama and Mississippi.

A particular focus for Elliott has been exploring how Americans live through the prism of race, culture and history. Her coverage links lessons from the past to the movement for racial justice in America today.

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, which earned a 2019 Gracie Award for documentary.

She was present for the re-opening of civil rights era murder cases, covering trials in the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, the murder of Hattiesburg, Miss., NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer and the killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Miss.

Elliott has profiled key figures in politics and the arts, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, historian John Hope Franklin, Congressman John Lewis, children's book author Eric Carle, musician Trombone Shorty and former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. She covered the funerals of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, and the King of the Blues BB King, and she took listeners along for the second line jazz procession in memory of Fats Domino in New Orleans.

Her stories give a taste of southern culture, from the Nashville hot chicken craze to the traditions of Mardi Gras to the roots of American music at Mississippi's new Grammy Museum. She's highlighted little-known treasures such as North Carolina artist Freeman Vines and his hanging tree guitars, 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.

Elliott is a former host of NPR's newsmagazine All Things Considered on the weekends, and is a former Capitol Hill Correspondent. She's an occasional guest host of NPR's news programs and is a contributor to podcasts and live programming.

Elliott was born in Atlanta, grew up in the Memphis area, and is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She lives in south Alabama with her husband, two children and a pet beagle.

For three decades, Georgia and Florida have been battling over how to share a precious resource: water. Georgia has it, and Florida, which is downstream, says it's not getting its fair share. The dispute is once again headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Florida wants the justices to cap Georgia's water use. But a court-appointed special master recently rejected that idea.

More than 6 million people depend on water that starts at Lake Lanier, a reservoir northeast of Atlanta. It generates hydropower as its water is released from a dam into the Chattahoochee River.

Typically, the week before Thanksgiving would mean a busy oyster shucking floor at Bon Secour Fisheries on the Alabama gulf coast. But this year just three shuckers are working to fill gallon tubs with oyster meat. There should be 20 more.

"When there's no oysters to shuck, they don't have any work," says Chris Nelson, vice president of Bon Secour Fisheries, a family-run seafood company that dates to 1892.

A memorial first installed in 2008 to mark the spot where 14-year-old Emmett Till was recovered from the Tallahatchie River in 1955 has been repeatedly vandalized — shot through with bullet holes. The sign was removed last month after an image surfaced of three white University of Mississippi fraternity brothers posing next to it with guns.

Civil rights tour guide Jessie Jaynes-Diming says it was painful to see.

"It would be the same thing if I had a Bible up there, or if I had the flag up there and you shot it up," she says.

The Mississippi ICE raids swept up nearly 700 undocumented workers from several food processing plants last week. Among those stripped away from their jobs and arrested was Angel Lopez's father.

"These past few days have just been hard because I've had to stay strong for my family," Angel Lopez says.

The 15-year-old and his two younger brothers were all born in the U.S. Their parents entered the country illegally from Guatemala 18 years ago and settled in Mississippi.

Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman is sitting in a rocking chair on a farmhouse porch in the hills of rural east Tennessee. She's granting a rare interview on the farm she bought 25 years ago to use as a retreat to train a new generation of activists.

In December, 33-year old Ryan Rust was found dead in his solitary cell at Alabama's Holman prison, a belt around his neck with one end tied to a bar in the cell window.

"He's my little brother," says Harmony Rust-Bodke. She keeps his ashes in a gilded red urn in honor of his favorite college football team. "That's the crimson color cause he is an Alabama fan," she says.

The U.S. Department of Justice has put the state of Alabama on notice to fix dangerous and deadly prison conditions or face a lawsuit that could result in a federal takeover of the prison system.

Updated at 6:23 p.m. ET Wednesday

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a controversial bill that bans nearly all abortions into law Wednesday evening.

It's considered the most restrictive abortion law in the United States. The law makes it a crime for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of a pregnancy, unless a woman's life is threatened or there is a lethal fetal anomaly.

Under the new law, doctors in the state face felony jail time up to 99 years if convicted. But a woman would not be held criminally liable for having an abortion.

Nashville may be the country music capital, but the industry for which its famous began in Atlanta. Now, a grassroots drive to preserve a historic downtown building is highlighting Atlanta's somewhat forgotten role in early roots music.

At 152 Nassau Street in Downtown Atlanta, an unmarked two-story rose brick storefront houses a piece of Atlanta's music history. This was the site of a pop-up recording studio in 1923.

In what would likely become the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, the Alabama House Tuesday passed a bill that would make it a crime for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of a pregnancy, unless a woman's life is threatened. The legislation is part of a broader anti-abortion strategy to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the right to abortion.

After allegations of a toxic workplace culture that discriminates against women and people of color, the Southern Poverty Law Center is trying to emerge and chart a way forward. Turmoil in the civil rights organization last month resulted in the firing of its famous founder and the resignations of its longtime president and legal director.

Karen Baynes-Dunning, an African-American woman, was then appointed to run the organization as its interim president. She spoke publicly about the path forward this week, for the first time, with NPR.

Charlottesville city government was upended after a woman was killed and others injured in a car attack by a white supremacist in 2017. White nationalists had targeted Charlottesville for a "Unite The Right Rally" after the Virginia town decided to take down a Confederate statue, part of its reckoning with a fraught racial history.

Political enemies and allies alike are calling for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, to step down after a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook was uncovered. But Northam has shown no inclination to do so. Now the two Democratic officials in line behind him to assume the governorship are both embroiled in scandals of their own.

The controversies rocking Richmond are a reminder of the complicated racial history that underpins Virginia politics.

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

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Jury selection begins today in the trial of the man accused of ramming his car through a crowd of people protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. James Alex Fields, Jr. is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, and faces additional charges of malicious wounding.

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.

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