Debbie Elliott

It's been 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre — one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. An armed white mob attacked Greenwood, a prosperous Black community in Tulsa, Okla., killing as many as 300 people. What was known as Black Wall Street was burned to the ground.

"Mother, I see men with guns," said Florence Mary Parrish, a small child looking out the window on the evening of May 31, 1921, when the siege began.

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.

In the best of times, service industry workers are typically paid below the minimum wage and rely on tips to make up the difference. Now, those still working in an industry battered by the coronavirus pandemic are on the front lines, enforcing COVID-19 safety measures at the expense of both tip earnings and avoiding harassment.

On a bright November morning, the writer and photographer Ben Raines launches his fishing boat into Mobile Bay, the city's skyline visible in the distance.

"Right on the doorstep of this big American city, we have one of the largest intact wilderness areas in the country, certainly one of the largest wetland wilderness areas," he says, pulling away from the dock.

His boat is at the top of Mobile Bay, where a confluence of freshwater rivers flow into the salt marsh and eventually drain into the Gulf of Mexico. It's known as the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

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.

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.

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

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.

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

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

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.

Pages