WASHINGTON (AP) — Two African-American elders, a woman from South Carolina and a Vietnam vet from Texas who the White House says inspired Barack Obama during what some thought was an improbable first campaign for president, are set to attend his final State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Edith Childs, of Greenwood, South Carolina, was serving on the Greenwood County Council when she and then-Illinois Sen. Obama met at a rally in her state in June 2007. He credits her with coining the "Fired up! Ready to go!" call-and-response that became a rallying cry for both of his White House bids.
Earl Smith was head of security at an Austin hotel when he met Obama in February 2008. They were in an elevator when Smith gave Obama a military patch he had worn during service with an artillery brigade that suffered more than 10,000 casualties. Smith had kept the patch for 40 years; Obama carried it with him for the rest of the campaign.
The patch will be archived in Obama's future presidential library, the White House said Saturday. The library is to be built in Chicago.
Childs and Smith will be among nearly two dozen individuals who will be seated in first lady Michelle Obama's guest box in the House chamber for the speech. Each guest will represent an aspect of the progress that Obama says happened because of his leadership, the White House said.
Obama told supporters Friday during a conference call that one of the guest seats will remain empty in memory of victims of gun violence. The issue has drawn renewed attention from Obama following recent deadly mass shootings in the U.S. He recently announced a series of steps to tighten gun policies.
President Ronald Reagan started the tradition of seating people deemed worthy of special recognition with the first lady.
Childs and Smith remind Obama "of the spirit of those who believe that every person has the ability to inspire and implement change," the White House said.
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap