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.

Georgia voters are being bombarded, whether it's Twitter messages, robocalls or the more than $100 million-worth of television commercials they'll see between now and Jan. 5. That's when Georgia's two Republican senators will face Democratic challengers in twin runoffs that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

Money and operatives are flooding the state to get out the vote.

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How conservative do you have to be to keep a Georgia Senate seat?

"More conservative than Attila the Hun," is what incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler advertises.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to replace Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson who resigned at the end of last year, citing health reasons. Now she's running in a crowded special election to serve out the remaining two years of Isakson's term.

On her new album, Uncivil War, blues singer Shemekia Copeland tells the story of what's thought to be the last slave ship to smuggle African captives to American shores, the Clotilda. On the centerpiece track, she sings:

She's coming for you, hear the chains rattle,
Turn you into a slave, another piece of chattel

President Trump is holding two rallies this week in Florida, a play to energize the voters he needs to deliver the must-win state.

Early voting and vote by mail numbers indicate Floridians are already engaged, as more than 4 million have cast a ballot already.

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A new book and museum exhibition celebrate the work of North Carolina luthier Freeman Vines. His handmade guitars are crafted from found materials and hunks of old wood, including some from a tree once used for a lynching.

"There was something about that wood that was mental, spiritual," Vines says.

It made him uneasy working with the black walnut – acquired from an elderly white man, something that had likely been passed down as a memento.

"Working with that wood was a spiritual thing," he says. "Not good, not bad, and not ugly. But just strange."

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is overseeing the investigation into the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was left paralyzed after he was shot seven times in front of his three kids by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis.

Until recently, it was common practice that any time an officer fired a gun, the police department conducted the investigation. In 2014, Wisconsin became the first state to end that process – one that has led to accusations of conflicts of interest and police cover-ups.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has unanimously voted to shut down the state's iconic Apalachicola oyster fishery after years of drought and other pressures have devastated wild oyster beds.

For decades, if you ordered oysters on the half-shell on the eastern Gulf coast, they most likely came from Apalachicola Bay – an estuary in north Florida where freshwater rivers meet the Gulf of Mexico, creating the perfect brackish mix for growing plump, salty oysters. But in recent years, they're hard to come by.

Civil rights icon and longtime Georgia Congressman John Lewis has died after a battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old.

The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis was a central figure in the key civil rights battles of the 1960s, including the Freedom Rides and the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march.

Veterans gathered recently beside the USS Alabama battleship on Mobile Bay in a show of support for former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"Let's hear it for the man of the hour, the once and future senator from Alabama, the honorable veteran Jeff Sessions," retired Brig. Gen. Richard Allen said in introducing Sessions.

But the crowd was sparse. And only one television camera showed up, even though the appearance was in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.

Confederate Adm. Raphael Semmes, in green-patinaed bronze, sword at his hip, long stood sentry on Mobile's Government Street, the main corridor through Alabama's historic port city.

Now all that remains is the 120-year-old statue's massive granite pedestal and a commemorative plaque.

"Adm. Raphael Semmes, CSA, commander of the most successful sea raider in history, the CSS Alabama," reads David Toifel, a member of the Adm. Raphael Semmes Camp #11 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Mobile.

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It's been five years since one of the most heinous racial killings in U.S. history when a white supremacist murdered nine worshippers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The massacre shocked the nation and prompted a racial dialogue in the city.

Those same issues resonate today amid the national outcry over recent incidents of police brutality.

Ethel Lee Lance, 70, was at Emanuel AME for Wednesday night Bible study on June 17, 2015 when a white stranger showed up, her daughter, Rev. Sharon Risher recounts.

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Five years ago today, a white supremacist murdered nine people in Charleston, S.C. They were worshippers at Emanuel AME Church. Here's NPR's Debbie Elliott.

Updated at 11:17 p.m. ET

New attention from people protesting police brutality and racial injustice is changing the way cities and campuses in the American South regard symbols of white supremacy. On Monday, Alabama's flagship state university took down memorials to Confederate soldiers. The University of Alabama removed plaques honoring students who served in the Confederate Army and student cadet corps.

As more states begin to ease coronavirus restrictions, restaurants are working through exactly how they will get back to business.

When Florida eased restaurant restrictions this week, the notorious Flora-Bama roadhouse reopened its doors, the sounds of live music drifting with the sea breeze.

This sprawling 11-acre complex on the Gulf of Mexico at the Florida-Alabama state line is known for its local musicians, Gulf oysters and cold beer.

Some Southern states, including Georgia and South Carolina, are among the first in the country to ease restrictions to try get back to business despite factors that make the South particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.

And pressure is mounting on other Southern governors to get their economies back up and running. Outside the Alabama Capitol this week, a few dozen protesters drove by honking their horns, chanting "freedom" and demanding to get back to work

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At the end of a workday, Cheryl Porter pulls into the gravel drive of her one-bedroom travel trailer in Brandon, Mississippi.

"I actually want to get rid of this one and get a bigger one," Porter says. "I want a two bedroom 'cause when Michael gets home, Lord willing."

Michael, her 29-year-old son, has been incarcerated since he was a teenager on several felony charges, including burglary. He's due for release in 2022.

"If he gets to come home alive," she says.

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After working for weeks to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Mustafa Ahmed is now fighting his own case of COVID-19.

"For me it was just like being hit by a train," he says.

Ahmed is an interventional cardiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a major medical hub for the state. Now, Alabama's largest city is under a shelter-in-place order, as city leaders here have taken a more aggressive approach than the state officials have in order to curtail the spread of the disease.

The Reverend Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, died Friday, according to a statement by the Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights. He was 98 years old.

The statement said Lowery died peacefully at home Friday night, surrounded by his daughters.

Updated 2:46 p.m. ET

Louisiana has emerged as a hot spot for the spread of coronavirus, with nearly 2,305 cases of COVID-19 and 83 reported deaths.

"Our rate of growth is faster than any state in the country," Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a televised address this week.

He warns the crisis has overwhelmed Louisiana's ability to combat the spread of the disease, and care for the sick. And in contrast to neighboring states, Louisiana is imposing tight restrictions on movement and economic activity.

Saying you're behind President Trump goes a long way in Alabama, where he has a 60% approval rating. Even a local school board candidate declared his devotion to the president during a recent speech at a meeting of the South Baldwin Republican Women in Foley, Ala.

And it's a factor in a hotly contested Republican Senate primary. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking his old Senate seat back in the March 3 primary to pick the GOP nominee to challenge Sen. Doug Jones, considered the most vulnerable Democrat up for reelection.

A few dozen volunteers are spending a Saturday morning in a hotel conference room in Macon, Ga., for a boot camp of sorts on fighting voter suppression.

"We are walking into a year that's going to be exciting, a little bit stressful," explains Hillary Holley, organizing director for Fair Fight Action. The group is waging a campaign against voter suppression in the 2020 election.

"We're gonna be working a lot, but we're ready for it," she says.

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.

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