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).

The towers framing the majestic roof of Centennial Baptist Church reach for the heavens near downtown Helena, Ark. The elaborate red brick church stands out in a neighborhood that's seen better days, given the boarded-up homes and businesses nearby.

As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year. They're numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we live in.

On a breezy December morning, a work crew is scouring the surf line on Grand Isle, La., scooping up tiny tar balls and collecting them in a basket.

Foreman LeRoy Irving keeps track of what the 14-person team has collected in a half-day. "If I had to guess, maybe 10 pounds," he says.

The state of Louisiana is paying tribute Friday to the Rev. T.J. Jemison, a strong and steady voice against unequal treatment for blacks in the Jim Crow South.

Jemison's body lay in repose at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, where Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said he will be remembered as one of the greats of the civil rights movement.

"He had such a heart and courage for justice," Landrieu said. "There are very few people in our state that will rise to that level of influence, and it is very appropriate that our Capitol was opened up for him today."

Voters in Alabama's 1st congressional district are getting a glimpse of the factions vying for control of the Republican Party as two GOP candidates face off in a special election Tuesday.

In New Orleans, it's cool to be in the high school band — especially when Trombone Shorty shows up in the band room.

The brass player and bandleader recently paid a visit to New Orleans' Warren Easton High School to work with band members. It's part of his work with the Trombone Shorty Foundation, a music education initiative.

"[Trombone Shorty] is, without a doubt, the role model for the next generation right now," says Bill Taylor, the foundation's executive director.

Fifty years ago Sunday, a Ku Klux Klan bomb at a Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala., killed four black girls and sent shock waves throughout the country.

In Birmingham, the tragedy laid bare a deep rift.

Carolyn McKinstry, standing on the sidewalk outside 16th Street Baptist Church, remembers arriving for worship 50 years ago.

"It was Youth Day," she says. "We were excited because that meant we got to do everything. We sang, we ushered, we did everything."

Some of her Sunday school classmates had gone to the ladies' room to freshen up.

On Tuesday, Congress will bestow its highest civilian honor — posthumously — on the young victims of a deadly Alabama church bombing from the civil rights era.

The Congressional Gold Medals for Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley come 50 years after the black girls were killed by a Ku Klux Klan bomb.

Just as the federal recognition is long in coming, so was justice.

It's been eight years to the day since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. To mark the anniversary, NPR revisits neighborhood activist and curator Ronald Lewis, a New Orleans resident whom Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep regularly checked in with in the months after the storm.

Parents in some rural Alabama counties are asking a federal court to block a new state law that gives tax breaks to families who transfer out of failing schools. They argue that their children aren't getting a fair shot at a quality education.

In the town where I grew up — Memphis, Tenn. — Tad Pierson has made a career out of his love for cars and American music by working as a tour guide. We meet in the grand lobby of the Peabody Hotel, the downtown landmark famous for its ducks and Southern elegance. But it's also considered the starting point of the Mississippi Delta, a region steeped in the blues.

Long before the Civil Rights marches of 1963 thrust Birmingham, Ala. into the national spotlight, black families along one residential street were steadily chipping away at Jim Crow segregation laws — and paying a price for it. As part of our series looking back at the seminal events that changed the nation 50 years ago, NPR's Debbie Elliott paid a visit to Birmingham's Dynamite Hill.

Does cast-iron skillet cornbread, hot and crispy from the oven, transport you back to your grandma's kitchen? Do you cook with certain ingredients as a link to your roots in the South? If so, "A Spoken Dish" wants to hear your story.

The Southern Foodways Alliance is teaming up with Whole Foods Market and Georgia Organics in this video storytelling project as a way to celebrate and document food memories and rituals of the American South.

For Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain NAACP leader Medgar Evers, the memories of 1963 are still raw.

Her family lived in terror behind the locked doors of their Jackson, Miss., home — a modest, three-bedroom, ranch-style house in one of the first new subdivisions built for African-Americans in Mississippi's segregated capital city. A back window in the tiny kitchen frames the backyard where Evers-Williams once grew rose bushes and a plum tree.

Gulf Coast states are lining up to spend $1 billion from BP on coastal restoration. The money is part of BP's legal responsibility to restore the Gulf of Mexico's natural resources in the aftermath of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

But the nature of some of the state projects, including boat ramps and a beachfront hotel, is raising questions about just what counts as coastal restoration.

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One reason the world is not yet running out of oil and gas is that energy companies keep finding ways to extract those resources from more and more difficult places, including far under the ocean. Royal Dutch Shell announced plans, yesterday, for the world's deepest offshore floating oil and gas facility.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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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.

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.

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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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The multinational oil firm BP is being taken to account for the massive 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday, the Obama administration banned BP from any new contacts with the federal government, citing, quote, "a lack of business integrity" related to the spill - that after BP admitted criminal wrongdoing in its recent settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.

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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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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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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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. People have been joking for weeks that the candidates are actually running for president of Ohio. That's how vital the state is, but here's a reminder about the electoral map. It is at least theoretically possible for either candidate to lose Ohio and still reach 270 electoral votes by winning some combination of other states. Many of those combinations include Florida.

It's at least theoretically possible for either candidate to lose the vital state of Ohio and still reach 270 electoral votes by winning some combination of other states. Many of those combinations include Florida — infamous for voting irregularities in 2000.

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