Debbie Elliott | WABE 90.1 FM

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.

On April 27, 2011, one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history struck the Deep South. It was what forecasters call a Super Outbreak with at least 100 major, destructive tornadoes. More than 300 people lost their lives, and the rash of storms caused an estimated $10 billion worth of damage to homes, businesses, and government infrastructure.

One of the cities hit hardest was Tuscaloosa, Ala. A nearly mile wide tornado cut a path though the town, killing 53 people, and injuring 1200 more.

Toforest Johnson was 25 years old when he was sentenced to death in 1998 for the killing of a sheriff's deputy outside Birmingham, Ala. His oldest daughter, Shanaye Poole, now 29, remembers being in the courtroom.

"I just wanted to talk to him. He looked so handsome. He had a suit on. And of course, I didn't really know what was going on. I may have been 4 or 5 years old at the time," she says. "I saw him walk away, and that was the last day of his freedom."

Entrepreneur Keitra Bates stands in a gleaming glass-front retail shop in a new development on the south side of Atlanta.

"We're looking at almost 2,000-sq-ft. of raw space," she says, pointing out the floor-to-ceiling windows that face onto Atlanta's popular Beltline, railways converted to trails and parks encircling the city.

This will soon be the second location for a business she started called Marddy's — short for Market Buddies, a shared kitchen where home cooks can prepare their goods, and collectively market them.

A lingering mistrust of the medical system makes some Black Americans more hesitant to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines. It has played out in early data that show a stark disparity in whom is getting shots in this country — more than 60% going to white people, and less than 6% to African Americans. The mistrust is rooted in history, including the infamous U.S. study of syphilis that left Black men in Tuskegee, Ala., to suffer from the disease.

Alabama corrections officials say they were caught off-guard by a lawsuit this week from the Justice Department alleging dangerous and unconstitutional conditions in the state's prisons.

It's the latest in a long list of legal challenges over a system plagued by deadly violence and neglect.

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