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).

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.

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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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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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A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has anchored a New Orleans traffic circle for more than 130 years. But Lee Circle could soon be history.

The New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 Thursday to remove four prominent Confederate monuments as a public nuisance.

The decision came after heated debate over what the memorials represent.

"If anybody wins here it will be the South, because it is finally rising now that we're taking these down," said City Council President Jason Williams.

Police in Birmingham, Ala., are investigating a fight that broke out during a City Council meeting Tuesday.

A routine meeting whose agenda included installing new fire hydrants and authorizing routine contracts erupted in fisticuffs between Birmingham Mayor William Bell and council member Marcus Lundy. Each has accused the other of assault.

Birmingham police Chief A.C. Roper said it's not clear who might be charged until an investigation is complete. He added, "Violence is never the answer regardless of the location."

A Southern cooking pioneer has died in her native Tennessee. Phila Rawlings Hach hosted the first television cooking show in the South, evangelizing the virtues of Southern cuisine. She went on to become a cookbook author, restaurateur, innkeeper and catering chef to politicians and military flights.

Hach died Wednesday at the age of 89, according to her son, Joe Hach.