White House

Edith Childs, who inspired ‘Fired up!,’ will see Obama’s final State of Union

Candidate Barack Obama shares the stage with Edith Childs, of Greenwood, S.C., during the 2008 campaign.
Candidate Barack Obama shares the stage with Edith Childs, of Greenwood, S.C., during the 2008 campaign. Charlotte Observer

Eight years after her infectious call-and-response slogan energized President Barack Obama’s first campaign at a crucial point in the race, Edith Childs will be watching his final State of the Union speech Tuesday up close from the first lady’s box.

The Greenwood, S.C., councilor is known for her “Fired up! Ready to go!” chant that became the unofficial rallying cry of Obama’s 2008 campaign when the road to the White House seemed anything but certain.

Childs, 66, a retired nurse and longtime activist since South Carolina’s civil rights era, first met then-Sen. Obama in Greenwood in 2007. After a late-night flight and drive from Greenville, S.C., the candidate arrived at the town’s civic center on a rainy morning to find a small group of just 38 supporters waiting.

Childs decided the little gathering needed a boost.

I’m thinking ‘She’s upstaging me, when is she going to be done?’ But here’s the thing, Greenwood, after a little bit, I was feeling kind of fired up, I was feeling like I was ready to go. So I joined in the chant.

Sen. Barack Obama in 2008

“I didn’t know what was going on, but everybody else in the room just said, ‘Fired up.’ Then I heard a voice say, ‘Ready to go,’” Obama recalled in 2008. “I turned behind me and I see this woman, about 5-2, 5-3. She’s dressed like she’s going to church; she’s got a church hat on. She looks right at me, she smiles and she says, ‘Fired up!’”

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The same chant was repeated at a rally in Aiken, S.C., and soon the slogan could be seen on the T-shirts and signs of Obama’s supporters across the country.

Obama invited Childs to the White House for the first holiday celebration of his presidency in 2009.

Childs was chosen to be a South Carolina delegate at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Denver, where she led 20,000 people in the now-famous chant.

Childs lives in Greenwood with her husband, Charles. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Childs will sit with first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden when Obama delivers his seventh and final State of the Union speech, in recognition of “her ability to distill the enthusiasm that helped carry (Obama) to the White House,” the administration said in a statement.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen