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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.

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

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Death penalty laws are on the books in 31 states, but only five carried out executions last year. Now Arkansas is rushing to execute death row inmates at an unprecedented pace this month, before the state's supply of lethal drugs expires.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is removing Orlando's chief prosecutor from a number of murder cases in an ongoing dispute over the death penalty.

Through executive order, the Republican governor is reassigning 22 first-degree murder cases from State Attorney Aramis Ayala to a prosecutor who handles a different judicial circuit.

Ayala, a Democrat, is the first black elected prosecutor in Florida, and has said she will not seek the death penalty in Orange and Osceola counties, one of the largest judicial circuits in the state.

On a cold and windy day off the coast of Alabama, a team of researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts gathers, conducting the first test outside a laboratory for a potential new solution to a challenging problem: cleaning oil spills from water.

The invention, the Flame Refluxer, is "very simple," says Ali Rangwala, a professor of fire protection engineering: Imagine a giant Brillo pad of copper wool sandwiched between layers of copper screen, with springy copper coils attached to the top.

This story is part of Kitchen Table Conversations, a series from NPR's National Desk that examines how Americans from all walks of life are moving forward from the presidential election.

Keitra Bates is standing in front of an empty storefront on Atlanta's Westside. The walls are yellow-painted stucco over cinder blocks, with iron bars on the windows and doors, and a small side yard littered with abandoned tires. A corner store, the Fair Street Superette, is next door.

As the Trump administration moves to step up deportations, immigrant rights groups are organizing a resistance.

"No papers, no fear" is the message at a meeting of the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans. A mostly Latino crowd is packed in the sanctuary of a church. They encourage one another to stand up for their rights.

"Fear is our fuel," says speaker Leticia Casildo as the audience cheers.

She says they're fighting for their families.

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

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A lawsuit on behalf of Alabama's prisoners, claiming they're being denied mental health care, begins in federal court Monday. The class-action suit states that Alabama doesn't provide adequate mental health treatment for those behind bars.

Lawyers for the prisoners argue that the state provides little other than medication, and sometimes inmates are forced to take it against their will. The plaintiffs allege prison conditions are dangerous and discriminatory, which amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Jeff Sessions of Alabama was the first Republican senator to get behind the-then renegade candidate Trump. Now, he is President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general — and his hard-line stance on immigration and 30-year-old allegations of racism are sure to draw scrutiny in confirmation hearings.

Long before Trump was winning primaries, or picking up political endorsements, he had a conservative ally in the Deep South.

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And now a view from some African-Americans in conservative South Carolina. NPR's Debbie Elliott spoke with voters trying to make sense of the election.

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Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Republican, is fighting to keep his job. He's accused of violating judicial ethics for telling local judges they were bound by Alabama's gay marriage ban — and not the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

His trial is set to start Wednesday. He has been suspended pending the trial, and faces removal from the bench.

Susan Glisson stands on the campus of the University of Mississippi near a 1906 Confederate memorial that has long been at the center of racial strife here.

The statue — a Confederate soldier atop a gray obelisk — was a rallying point for a white mob opposing integration in a deadly 1962 riot. Decades later, Glisson recalls, she was a graduate student during dueling protests near the statue over the practice of flying Confederate battle flags at Ole Miss football games.

Things are far from normal for people in Louisiana hit by last month's historic flood. Thousands have lost their homes, their cars, their jobs.

But one routine resumed this week in Baton Rouge: Students are back in class after a three-week interruption.

At Claiborne Elementary in north Baton Rouge, kids are tussling on school playgrounds again, even as their families' soaked belongings lay in heaps along neighborhood streets.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Now to a shocking attack here in the United States. Vice President Joe Biden was in Baton Rouge last night, speaking at a community memorial service for the three Louisiana law enforcement officers gunned down last week. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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The city of Baton Rouge is mourning its fallen officers and trying to find a path forward after weeks of violence and protests. Sheriff deputies - Sheriff's Deputy Brett Garafola will be remembered at a funeral today. He's one of three law enforcement officers who were killed last Sunday by a gunman authorities say targeted police. NPR's Debbie Elliott has more.

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

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Officials in Mississippi are now closing the investigation into one of the most notorious murders of the civil rights era, the killing by the Ku Klux Klan of three young Freedom Summer activists. Here's Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.

Just days after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., last year, the pews at Emanuel AME were filled for Sunday service. A black cloth was draped over the chair where Emanuel's pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, should have been sitting.

Holding worship in the church sanctuary — while its basement was still a fresh crime scene — served as a way for the congregation to move forward while acknowledging the deaths of nine of its own.

It's been nearly a year since a mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., shocked the nation.

"We woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken," said Gov. Nikki Haley the morning after a gunman killed nine worshippers in what authorities describe as a race-based attack.

At the time, officials struggled to make sense of the crime that unfolded on June 17 during an intimate evening Bible study at Emanuel AME Church.

Nashville Hot Chicken is showing up everywhere lately, from fast-food marquees to trendy restaurant menus. But to find the real thing, you might start in a nondescript strip mall on the northeast side of Nashville, Tenn.

Here at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, people line up long before the doors open to get their fix.

"Need my hot chicken," says construction worker Jose Rodriguez as he approaches the kitchen window to place his order. "I'm going to get two hot of the breast quarters."

Donald Trump's enduring appeal in the Republican presidential contest has the GOP in a quandary, as it's forced to contend with voters fed up with party politics.

Some 50 years ago, another vociferous candidate put the scare in traditional power brokers. George Wallace fired up crowds with a similar anti-establishment message, and drew protests as passionate as are being seen at Trump's rallies today. Wallace also became a face of racial tension in America as the leading symbol for segregation in the 1960s.

At a recent rally on the steps of the Mississippi state Capitol in Jackson, dozens of protesters shouted "Bring it down! Bring it down!" in opposition to the flag waving atop the building.

Mississippi is the only remaining U.S. state that still has obvious Confederate imagery in its state flag. The upper left corner, or canton, depicts the Confederate battle emblem — a red background with a blue "X" lined with white stars.

The presidential contest moves South on Super Tuesday, March 1. The region is considered a firewall for Hillary Clinton because of her strong support among African-American voters, a key bloc of Southern Democrats.

Greensboro, Ala. is in the heart of the black belt — named for its rich black soil and known as a place where the right to vote is sacred.

"I'm a foot soldier," said 80-year-old Theresa Burroughs. "Every time there's a vote, I go."

Some $25 billion is headed to the five Gulf states that were devastated in the 2010 BP oil disaster. Just a fraction of the government fines and court settlements have been paid — but not all of it will end up repairing the damaged ecosystem.

New Orleans is famous for its rollicking carnival to celebrate Mardi Gras, but the party has deep roots in another Gulf Coast city, Mobile, Ala.

And in Mobile, carnival rules this time of year, even in the city council chambers. "Good morning and happy Mardi Gras," says city council president Gina Gregory as she welcomes masked and costumed revelers for a special proclamation marking 185 years of street celebrations in Mobile.

When you enter the lobby of the Orleans Public Defender's Office, expect a bit of a wait, because receptionist Chastity Tillman will likely be busy on the phone.

"The jail calls. We get them every second," Tillman says.

It's the end of an era in Charleston, S.C. One of the longest-serving mayors in the country, Joe Riley, is retiring after 40 years in office. His tenure has seen the transformation of downtown Charleston from a decaying urban center to a top cultural destination.

On a tour of downtown, you can literally see Riley's imprint on the Charleston landscape, down to the most subtle of details – from the paint color at City Hall to the color of the driveway bricks.

"That's Riley Red," he says with a laugh. "It's not because of my hard head, that's just the color."

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Questions about the U.S. refugee screening program are surfacing again. This, after two Iraqi-born men were arrested on terrorism-related charges in Texas and California. They came to this country as refugees. Republicans in Congress are pushing for changes in the system, and two Republican governors have now sued the federal government over the resettlement of refugees. The latest lawsuit comes from Alabama, which is seeking details about refugees placed within its borders. NPR's Debbie Elliott has the story.

Laid off steelworker Siegfried Powell hefts cardboard boxes from a food pantry set up by his local United Steelworkers Union in Birmingham, Ala.

"Come on, sweetheart. Grab you a bag of potatoes," Powell says as he takes a load of groceries to the car for a family trying to stretch unemployment benefits.

About 1,100 people lost their jobs when U.S. Steel decided to permanently close a blast furnace that had been the bedrock of Birmingham's steel industry for nearly a century.

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