Debbie Elliott

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Editor's note: This report contains language and an image some may find offensive or upsetting.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice stands high on a hillside overlooking downtown Montgomery, Ala. Beyond the buildings you can see the winding Alabama River and hear the distant whistle of a train — the nexus that made the city a hub for the domestic slave trade.

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In Memphis and across the nation, thousands are gathering — and some are protesting — to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The day honors King's work, looks at his legacy and raises the question: What comes next?

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It was a call for help from activists that took the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis in March 1968. Days later he would be fatally shot by James Earl Ray on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

But before the motel, the shooting, the riots and the mourning, there was the Memphis sanitation workers' strike.

King broke away from his work on the Poor People's Campaign to travel from Atlanta to Tennessee and help energize the strikers — his last cause for economic justice.

About 10 miles off the Alabama coast, Ben Raines gently falls backward from a boat into the Gulf of Mexico, a scuba tank strapped to his back and handsaw on his belt. He's on a mission to collect cypress samples from 60 feet below.

"We're going to cut some pieces as if we were in a forest on land," says Raines, an environmental reporter with AL.com.

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Even in Alabama ZIP codes where Donald Trump dominated in 2016, there are lots of campaign signs that say "GOP for Jones." That is Doug Jones, the Democrat opposing Republican candidate Roy Moore in next week's special election for the U.S. Senate.

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No city sends off its music royalty like New Orleans. Last night, the city bid farewell to native son and rock 'n' roll architect Fats Domino, who died last week. NPR's Debbie Elliott was there for the rollicking procession known as a second line.

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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.

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.