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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Around the Nation
5:14 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

Birmingham Students Reenact Historic March, 50 Years Later

Originally published on Thu May 2, 2013 6:22 pm

In Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday, children took to downtown streets in a reenactment of historic events there 50 years ago. It's part of a series of events this year marking Birmingham's crucial role in the civil rights movement.

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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Around the Nation
5:56 am
Thu April 18, 2013

Surviving Doolittle Raiders To Hold Their Last Meeting

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 12:22 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

On this day in 1942, the United States struck back against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The 80 men who flew that first bombing raid over Tokyo are known as the Doolittle Raiders, named after their commander Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. For decades, the Raiders have met each year to remember their historic World War II mission. But with few surviving members, a meeting in Florida this week will be their last.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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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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Law
8:11 am
Sat March 2, 2013

In Gulf Oil Spill Trial, Testimony Cites Series Of Missteps

Originally published on Sat March 2, 2013 11:04 am

This was the first week of testimony in a civil case to assign blame and financial liability for the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S.
5:01 pm
Mon February 25, 2013

Alabama Divided As Court Prepares To Hear Voting Rights Challenge

A young demonstrator is attacked by a police dog in Birmingham, Ala., in May 1963. Scenes like these helped usher in the nation's landmark civil rights law, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday over a key provision of the law.
Bill Hudson AP

Originally published on Mon February 25, 2013 7:23 pm

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The law's future is to be decided in a case from Alabama, the very place the statute was born.

Shelby County, Ala., is fighting a section of the law that requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to seek federal approval for any changes to election rules.

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Around the Nation
12:53 pm
Tue February 12, 2013

Mardi Gras Merriment Beyond Bourbon Street Festivities

A reveler dances with a young girl during the Courir de Mardi Gras in Mamou, La., in 2007.
Josh Noel MCT /Landov

It's Fat Tuesday, the final day of indulgence before the fasting and penance of Lent begins. While the revelry in New Orleans tends to grab the spotlight, you can find some fascinating Mardi Gras traditions elsewhere.

From chasing chickens in Cajun Country to catching MoonPies in Mobile, communities all along the Gulf Coast have their own way of marking Carnival season.

The Fatted Ox

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Around the Nation
7:43 pm
Tue January 29, 2013

Drought Causes Ripple Effect Along Mighty Mississippi River

International ships call at the busy Port of New Orleans. It's a major shipping convergence point on the Mississippi River. Ships come upriver from the Gulf of Mexico with imports from abroad, and barges come downriver, bringing U.S. goods for export.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Wed January 30, 2013 8:30 pm

The persistent drought is raising questions about how the Mississippi River is managed — both upstream and down.

While cargo traffic upriver has gotten lots of attention, the drought is creating a different set of problems downriver at the mouth of the Mississippi, where saltwater has encroached.

An old-fashioned staff river gauge behind the New Orleans district office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows the Mississippi is running just shy of 6 feet above sea level at the river bend.

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Law
5:16 pm
Mon January 28, 2013

Immigration Reform Plan Gets Mixed Reviews Across Country

Originally published on Mon January 28, 2013 6:23 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The debate in Washington over immigration reform is underway. Today, a bipartisan group of senators released a framework for sweeping changes to the nation's immigration laws. President Obama is scheduled to unveil his own plan in Nevada tomorrow. The Senate outline includes, among other things, a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million immigrants now living in the U.S. illegally. It also calls for stricter border security and employment verification.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, the plan is already getting mixed reviews.

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Race
3:41 am
Mon January 21, 2013

Myrlie Evers-Williams To Deliver Inaugural Invocation

Originally published on Mon January 21, 2013 10:01 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the widow of a murdered Mississippi civil rights leader will help open the inaugural ceremony today. President Obama selected activist Myrlie Evers-Williams to deliver the invocation. She's the first woman and the first layperson to have the honor.

NPR's Debbie Elliott has this profile.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Evers-Williams' prominent role in President Obama's second inauguration comes in the 50th year since NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers was shot to death outside his family's home in Jackson, Mississippi.

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U.S.
5:34 pm
Fri January 11, 2013

Cigarette Makers Frustrated As Product Approvals Stall

A clerk prices cigarettes at Discount Smoke Shop in Ballwin, Mo. The Food and Drug Administration, which must approve all new tobacco products or any changes to existing brands, has not cleared any products since assuming that responsibility in 2009.
Jeff Roberson AP

Originally published on Fri January 11, 2013 7:28 pm

It's been only a few years since Congress granted the federal government the power to approve how tobacco products are made and sold in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration's new Center for Tobacco Products, established under a 2009 law that gives the agency jurisdiction over tobacco, must review all new cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, as well as any changes to existing brands.

But the agency has yet to clear any products under the new system, and some cigarette makers are frustrated by the backlog of applications.

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U.S.
5:13 pm
Mon December 17, 2012

Federal-State Tug Of War: Drawing The Lines In Immigration Overhaul

Maria Lola Melisio, 18, entered the U.S. illegally with her mother when she was 7. Now she's an undocumented resident living in Alabama, which has one of the country's toughest immigration laws.
Debbie Elliott NPR

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 7:19 pm

Inside a modest storefront in Loxley, Ala., 18-year-old Maria Lola Melisio points out the Mexican spices and other products for sale in her mother's market.

"There are the leaves where you make your tamales — you roll them up in that," she says.

Melisio has long dark curls and is wearing a houndstooth scarf in support of the Alabama Crimson Tide. When she was 7 years old, she entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico with her mother, and still has a scar on her back from crawling under the border fence. It's a story she's kept secret until now.

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The Two-Way
2:22 pm
Thu November 15, 2012

BP Settlement Of Little Comfort To Some, A 'Down Payment' To Others

June 2010: A boom floats in the water as contract workers from BP use skimmers to clean oil from a marsh near Venice, La.
Win McNamee Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 15, 2012 6:36 pm

There's mixed reaction this afternoon to the news that BP has agreed to a deal with federal authorities to pay $4.5 billion in criminal and civil penalties related to the 2010 Gulf Oil spill.

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Election 2012
5:40 am
Wed November 7, 2012

Democratic Candidates Do Well In Sunshine State

Originally published on Wed November 7, 2012 10:31 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Five hundred thirty-eight electoral votes were up for grabs on Election Day. President Obama has won, so far, 303 of them, a comfortable majority. Mitt Romney has 206. Twenty-nine are still unaccounted for - the electoral votes of Florida. Too close to call there. Less than a percentage point divides the candidates. But down the ballot, Democrats did well. The party retained a Senate seat and picked up a few key congressional races as well. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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Election 2012
8:08 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

Independent Voters Could Be Key In Florida

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And now on to the biggest state that is really a contested battleground. I mean, we assume New York and California are barely contested by Republicans and Texas is assumed to go to Republican.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Texas, yeah.

SIEGEL: But with 29 electoral votes, Florida is always a state we look at. And our own Debbie Elliott is in Tampa at the Republican Party event there. And, Debbie, who are the key constituencies in Florida who are thought to be the ones who will decide who wins this day today?

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