More than 1 million people packed the National Mall on Tuesday morning, braving crowds and wintry temperatures to witness history as Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States, and the nation’s first black chief executive. In his inaugural address, Obama emphasized responsibility as U.S. citizens “begin again the work of remaking America.” (AP photos)
WASHINGTON — Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday before a sea of cheering people gathered to witness the beginning of his tenure and a profound moment in racial history.
With his wife, Michelle, holding the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln put his hand on to take the same oath in 1861, Obama, the 47-year-old son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Africa, took the last formal step toward becoming president at noon. He then delivered his inaugural address, taking office at a time of national economic crisis.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real,” Obama said in his first address to the nation as president. “They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.”
Speaking to the massive crowd that spread out on the National Mall from the Capitol toward the Lincoln Memorial, Obama recalled the words of George Washington, America’s first president, enjoining Americans against faint-heartedness “in this winter of our hardship.”
“With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come,” Obama said at the end of his speech. “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”
Hundreds of thousands of people packed the mall from the West Front of the Capitol to beyond the Washington Monument, buttoned up against the freezing chill but projecting a palpable sense of hope as Obama became the first African American to hold the nation’s highest elected office. It was the largest inaugural crowd in decades, perhaps the largest ever; the throng and the anticipation began building even before the sun rose.
After his speech, following a carefully designed script that played out all morning, Obama was to head inside the Capitol and sign nomination papers for the cabinet members he chose in the weeks following his Nov. 4 victory. The Senate confirmed some of those new cabinet secretaries later Tuesday, but Republicans planned to delay the confirmation of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state for at least one day.
Obama, who attended church earlier in the day, had coffee with President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and then rode with them in a motorcade to Capitol Hill. He then joined congressional leaders and other dignitaries at a luncheon in Statuary Hall. That was to be followed by a review of the troops — his first as commander-in-chief — before he travels back downtown at the front of the inaugural parade, which he will then watch from the reviewing stand at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The crowd, before noon, was easily well into the hundreds of thousands. Even before the sun rose or the mercury rose to the freezing point, people had streamed from all directions to the West Front of the Capitol, making their way on foot and by mass transit, since traffic was barred from a wide area around the grounds and the National Mall for security and to prevent gridlock.
Given the historic nature of Obama’s election, black Americans appeared to be much more prevalent in the gathering crowd than at inaugurals of the recent past.
The Obamas left Blair House at 8:47 a.m. for the short drive in their new presidential Cadillac limousine to St. John’s Episcopal Church, just a few blocks away, for a prayer service. Obama wore a dark suit and red tie. Michelle Obama wore a sparkling golden dress and matching coat.(p2)