‘A story to tell my children’: Jasper County, SC, women bound for D.C.

jself@thestate.comJanuary 20, 2013 

  • South Carolinians at the inaugural ceremonies Midlands teacher to volunteer Barbara Berry, 55, who teaches ninth-grade English at Lexington High School, will volunteer at the swearing-in ceremony. “I thought it would be great way to see history in the making” and a “great honor to be part of any presidential inauguration,” said Berry, who looks forward to sharing her experience with her students when she returns to school. Saluda student is part of high school inaugural Katherine Dumont, a 10th grader at Saluda High School has been invited along with high schoolers from across the nation and world to participate in a five-day conference in Washington, D.C., coinciding with the inaugural ceremonies. Students will learn about the electoral process and the inaugural tradition. Dumont, 15, looks forward to learning about how campaigns are influenced by different factors, including the press and how the public views candidates. She also looks forward to meeting historians and political figures, and watching the inauguration. S.C. in the inaugural parade S.C. groups marching in the 57th Inaugural Parade include: • The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission from Charleston. Part of the National Park Service, the heritage corridor extends along the coast from Wilmington, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla. The Gullah Geechee Commission was established by Congress in 2006 with help from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia. One of 49 national heritage areas, the commission celebrates and preserves the living culture of African Americans along the corridor. A World War I historical color guard from Fort Jackson also will march in the parade Monday. The color guard is from the U.S. Army Reserve’s 81st Regional Support Command, called “The Wildcats.” They were chosen to represent Army Reserve Soldiers from nine Southeastern states plus Puerto Rico. While at Camp (now Fort) Jackson in 1917, the 81st Infantry Division designed and wore the first shoulder patch in the U.S. Army – a wildcat on an olive drab-colored circle. Celebrating the soldiers of World War I, the 81st Wildcats will wear the patch on actual World War I uniforms. Clemson professor published in inaugural portfolio Clemson University’s Vernon Burton, a professor of history and director of the university’s CyberInstitute, is one of 10 historians nationwide to be invited to submit essays for the inaugural portfolio. Published by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the portfolio marks the 250th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Burton’s essay focuses on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, “one of the most significant events of 1863,” Burton said. “It linked America and led to the standardization of time zones. Railroads helped Lincoln win the war.” Veteran with Charleston ties is inaugural citizen co-chair Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor Morris, a Iowan with Charleston ties, is one of eight citizen co-chairs for the inaugural ceremonies. Morris was injured by an improvised explosive device blast during his first deployment to Afghanistan with a unit based in Charleston. His injuries resulted in the amputation of both of his legs, his left arm and his right hand. Morris is the recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Morris is assigned to the Navy Safe Harbor Wounded Warrior Program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Reporter Jeff Wilkinson contributed to this article.

— This morning, Elizabeth Rhett, her two sisters and her two daughters will climb on a bus in Ridgeland and ride nine hours north to a hotel outside of Washington, D.C.

Monday morning, they will rise at 4 a.m. for breakfast, then ride into Washington, D.C., where their bus will drop them off about a mile from the National Mall. There, the five Jasper County women will walk to watch the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Rhett, 63, will be just fine despite the long travel and walk, her daughter Patricia Rhett said.

“The only thing old about her is her age,” Patricia Rhett, 35, said of her mother, who works three or four days a week at the Department of Social Services and frequently recruits her daughter to help do things for the community. “She’s young at heart.”

The group may not get close enough to see the stage or shake the president’s hand – Elizabeth Rhett’s unlikely wish – but being in Washington for the historic moment will still be special, they say.

“It means a great lot to me because this will be my first time ... of going up there and being just that close. I know I won’t be able to, and I wish I could, just shake his hand,” Elizabeth Rhett said. “I am so thrilled. My suitcase is packed, ready to go.”

The president and Vice President Joe Biden will be sworn in privately today – the date the U.S. Constitution designates for them to take office. The public ceremony will be Monday, Martin Luther King Day.

Elizabeth Rhett’s involvement with organizing Jasper County’s Martin Luther King Day parade in 2009 kept her in Ridgeland, instead of going to Washington for Obama’s historic first inauguration.

Then, in September, she had a ticket to hear the president accept his party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. But weather forced organizers to move the event to a smaller venue and Rhett had to sit in an overflow area.

But this year, the timing worked out.

A life in service

A Ridgeland native, Elizabeth Rhett has made a life for herself in social services and politics.

She works at Social Services providing emergency assistance to people who have lost their homes or jobs, or those who need help with bills, food, transportation and other services.

Spending her days helping others, even when she has sworn never to take social assistance, makes the president’s message resonate with her, she said.

An officer in the Jasper County Democratic Party, Rhett also has worked at the polls for 30 years, she said.

Patricia Rhett, a chemist who works for a company in Georgia that makes additives used in petroleum products, said her mother started working at the polls after hearing concerns about the voting process.

“Some people just sit around and complain about how things are. My mom isn’t a complainer, she’s a doer,” Patricia Rhett said. “It means a lot to me knowing that my mom takes voting and politics seriously. She’s a good role model that way.”

Elizabeth Rhett’s two sisters also work at the polls, Patricia Rhett said, adding she is proud of her family’s active involvement in government.

“It’s a collective effort,” she said. “We’re going to clean this place up.”

Patricia Rhett has her own take on what seeing the president’s inauguration will mean.

“Just being able to watch my mom, knowing that she’s worked hard, knowing that she’s going to be there and have a chance to go. It’s a story that I’ll get to tell my children.”

Reach Self at (803)771-8658.

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