Debbie Elliott | KUER 90.1

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.

The ingredients for a Southern campaign swing? Hometown endorsements, a stadium and Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring from the loudspeakers.

Donald Trump had them all when he took the stage at a recent stop in Mobile to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama."

"Unbelievable," he said, seeing the estimated 30,000 people who came to hear his pitch.

"My whole energy and my whole being is going to be to make our country rich and to make our country great again," he said.

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Angela Chalk lives right in the middle of New Orleans, in the 7th Ward. Her house withstood Hurricane Katrina's pounding winds, but not the flood that followed when the federal levee system failed.

"I had 6 feet of water," she says, pointing to a watermark on her wall.

And she wasn't alone. About 80 percent of the city's homes were inundated with floodwater. It was weeks before the water receded and Chalk was able to return home.

When she did, what she found was a crusty brown mess.

The people of Bayou la Batre, Ala., say you know their town by the four seasons.

"Shrimp, fish, crab and oyster," says Stephanie Nelson Bosarge. "That's your four seasons."

Bosarge grew up here in a house less than a thousand feet from the water — one of nine kids, the fourth generation to work in the seafood industry.

Today all that's left of the house is a concrete slab. Grass and weeds are creeping up over what's left of the oyster run, where a conveyor belt once carried shells between the shuckers.

Baskets of perfectly seasoned deep-fried chicken sizzle during lunch hour at Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans, a city famous for its food. But the real magic happens early in the morning, when Leah Chase, 92, arrives to prepare the day's specials.

"I made meatloaf today. Smothered pork chops. I did oyster and artichoke soup," says Chase.

Dooky Chase is a landmark in the city's historically African-American Treme neighborhood.

A rural West Tennessee community is pushing the Justice Department to reopen a 75-year-old civil rights murder case.

Elbert Williams is believed to be the first NAACP official killed for seeking to register black voters. Yet the mysterious story of his 1940 murder is not widely known.

Clues about Williams' murder are thought to be buried with him, here in the Taylor Cemetery just outside Brownsville, Tenn.

Local attorney Jim Emison walks to a corner of the cemetery, set off by two towering oaks.

"This is the area where we believe he lies," Emison says.

This summer, Morning Edition is taking you on adventures off the beaten path — trails that transport us to a special, hidden place. We start just minutes from downtown Mobile, Ala., at the point where five rivers converge in the Mobile Bay Delta. With our trail guide, we discover centuries of history, and biodiversity like no other place in the country.

The point where five rivers empty into Mobile Bay is a fisherman and hunter's paradise, but it's also a draw for naturalists and history buffs.

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The King of the Blues has been laid to rest back home in Mississippi. B.B. King died May 14 at his home in Las Vegas. But this past week, he made the final journey back to where he rose from a hardscrabble sharecropper to a world famous blues man.

Business is brisk at the Ole Curiosities and Book Shoppe, a block off the town square in Monroeville, Ala.

Jennifer Brinkley and her friend Leigh Mikovch are at the counter, putting in a pre-order for Go Set a Watchman, the much anticipated forthcoming book from Harper Lee.

"We're big Harper Lee fans and To Kill a Mockingbird fans," Brinkley says.

Both are writers from Bowling Green, Ky. They're visiting Monroeville for the annual Alabama Writers Symposium. Brinkley says it will be meaningful to have the new book come from Lee's hometown.

At the Gulf State Park Pier in Orange Beach, Ala., Wetzel Wood casts his fishing line into the rough surf of the Gulf of Mexico. He pulls his bait, a cigar minnow, through the water just beyond where the waves break for the shore.

"On a good day you'd catch king mackerel, Spanish mackerel," he says. Wood first learned to fish at the pier with his grandfather in 1969. "I've seen a lot of different things out here. It's been wonderful."

Five years ago, BP's out-of-control oil well deep in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. Eleven workers were killed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. But it was more than a deadly accident — the blast unleashed the nation's worst offshore environmental catastrophe.

In the spring and summer of 2010, oil gushed from the Macondo well for nearly three months. More than 3 million barrels of Louisiana light crude fouled beaches and wetlands from Texas to Florida, affecting wildlife and livelihoods.

Today, the spill's impacts linger.

Southern Baptist leaders were supposed to be talking about bioethics this week at a summit in Nashville, Tenn. That changed in December after a New York grand jury declined to return an indictment in the police choking death of Eric Garner.

When Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, sent out tweets expressing his shock, there was pushback. Should the church get involved in a divisive political issue?

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The section of Louisiana's serpentine River Road that tracks along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is known as "Plantation Alley." The restored antebellum mansions along the route draw hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

The newest attraction aims to give visitors a realistic look at life in the pre-Civil War South. Don't expect hoop skirts and mint juleps, but stark relics that tell the story of a dark period in American history, through the eyes of the enslaved.

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Gay rights advocates have asked a federal court to order probate judges in Alabama to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Meanwhile, some couples staged a sit-in, of sorts, outside the Mobile County courthouse.

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It was a day of historical reckoning in Rock Hill, S.C. A judge threw out the convictions of several civil rights pioneers who were jailed 54 years ago for a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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Editor's note: This story contains racial slurs.

A new musical work pays tribute to an unlikely and little-known civil rights activist: Booker T. Wright. You won't find his name in history textbooks. But his story is a testament to the everyday experiences of blacks in the Jim Crow South.

Money is flowing now to Gulf Coast states to remedy damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent spill. All kinds of projects are underway, from building boat ramps to shoring-up marshland.

They're being paid for with a $1 billion down payment BP made toward its ultimate responsibility to make the Gulf Coast whole, a figure estimated to be up to $18 billion.

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The Democratic National Committee is running a Spanish language ad on radio stations in North Carolina and Georgia, where there are competitive U.S. Senate races.

"Republicans think we're going to stay home," the ad says. "It's time to rise up."

Democrats see opportunity in Southern states with fast-growing minority populations and an influx of people relocating to the Sun Belt. In Georgia, there's a push to register new voters in hopes of turning a red state blue.

In a hall inside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama on Saturday, long tables are draped with black linen. Experts are bent over tables, examining aging quilts, letters filled with tight, hand-penned script, and yellowing black-and-white photos tacked into crackling albums — all family keepsakes brought in by local residents.

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