42° Good Morning
42° Good Morning

President Barack Obama: 'We must pick ourselves up'

Barack Obama made history today, becoming the first African-American president of the United States in a swearing-in ceremony before hundreds of thousands of exuberant spectators who braved frigid temperatures and jammed The Mall.

Obama took the oath of office shortly after noon on the same burgundy-velvet-covered Bible used for the 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, the president who led the U.S. through the Civil War and freed the slaves. A massive, exuberant throng jammed The Mall to witness the event.

- >>See the latest inauguration photos

"I stand here today humbled by the task before us," Obama said in his inaugural address.

He said the nation faced numerous challenges: a shattered economy, two wars, costly health care, a lack of confidence in government, enemies who hate the American way of life, and fears the country must lower its sights. But he said "we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

In an undisguised shot at Bush administration policies, he said, "Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America."

Obama also vowed to "responsibly leave Iraq to its people" and to build what he called a "hard-earned peace in Afghanistan."

Obama, 47, became the nation's fourth youngest president. The 35-word oath of office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, has been uttered by every president since George Washington. Both Roberts and Obama ended up stumbling over some of the words.

In his nearly 20-minute speech Obama called for a "new era of responsibility" in America and the need for every American to recognize duties to themselves, their nation and the world.

He called it "the price and the promise of citizenship." He also told the crowd "there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

In his most overt reference to the historical significance of his rise to power, he noted the days of slavery and legal segregation are over: It is "why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

Obama's speech also contained a theme of inclusion and conciliation, both at home and abroad.

"Our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness," he said. "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

He offering an opening to the Muslim world, saying, "We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." But he also issued a tough warning to America's enemies: "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

Prior to the swearing in, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California told the crowd that jammed the National Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument that "the world is watching today." Aretha Franklin sang "My Country, Tis of Thee," while conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren -- an opponent of gay rights -- gave the inaugural invocation.

An avalanche of cheers greeted Obama's wife Michelle when she appeared on the steps of the Capitol at about 11:30 a.m. Obama's daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, also took their places.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney -- in a wheelchair because of a back injury -- appeared at 11:36 a.m.

An array of the most powerful political figures in the nation preceeded them, including former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter -- along with Obama's predecessor. The former first ladies accompanied them, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's incoming secretary of state.

In his final moments before assuming the most powerful office on earth, Obama and his wife sat down with Bush and his wife, Laura, in the White House. They were joined by Biden and his wife, Jill.

The Obamas walked up the steps of the North Portico and exchanged handshakes, smiles and pecks on the cheeks with the outgoing president and first lady. After posing for a photograph, the foursome went inside to have coffee in the Blue Room with the Bidens and leaders of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Bush and his successor then left together in a sleek, heavily armored Cadillac limousine to the Capitol for the inauguration ceremony.

Following tradition, Bush had left a note for Obama in the top drawer of his desk in the Oval Office.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the theme of the message -- which Bush wrote on Monday -- was similar to what he has said since election night: that Obama is about to begin a "fabulous new chapter" in the United States, and that he wishes him well. Police predicted a record two million people might attend the inauguration.

By 8 a.m., several hundred thousand people had already gathered along the inauguration route, braving cold that registered at 21 degrees Fahrenheit. Some were on The Mall as early as 3 a.m.

Some wore sweatshirts emblazoned with the faces of Obama and Martin Luther King Jr., shirts that read simply: "The Dream." Others waved flags, banners or signs.

"This is the culmination of two years of work," said Obama activist Akin Salawu, 34, of Brooklyn, who helped the candidate as a community organizer and Web producer. "We got on board when Obama was the little engine who could. He's like a child you've held onto. Now he's going out into the world."

Seretta McKnight, 50, left Roosevelt at midnight with a group of 40 teenagers and 12 adults and arrived in the capital at 4:30 a.m. This morning the group was at Washington's Capitol Skyline Hotel -- and bursting with energy despite almost no sleep. "O-bam-ah," McKnight called out. The group cried back in unison, "O-bam-ah."

Some of the teenagers said the event was proof they can achieve their dreams. "To see it now, it's amazing," said Tolitha Henry, 16. "It shows you can do what you want whoever you are."

Suburban subway riders on their way to the inauguration also seemed to be in a jubilant mood, despite the early hour. In Fredericksburg, Va., an hour south of Washington, chants of "Obama! Obama!" rang out at a commuter rail station when the line started moving at 5 a.m. for the first trip into Washington.

The Obamas first appeared in public when they left the Blair House at about 8:45 a.m. to attend a traditional private Mass at nearby St. John's Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House.

The day's festivities won't end until after midnight, with dancing and partying at 10 inaugural balls.

Security in the capital was unprecedented. National Guard troops appeared to be everywhere. Most bridges into Washington and about 3.5 square miles of downtown were closed.

Despite that, coffee shops were packed. Entrepreneurs set up impromptu shops on lawns and sidewalks off Pennsylvania Avenue.Roy Wilkins, 66, was selling coffee, hot chocolate and tea for $2 a cup from a folding table on a friend's lawn on a side street about a mile from the Capitol building. He had a 10-gallon jug of water. And a gas burner. He said he was simply "trying to raise money to help some folks out." He didn't say who.

On other streets vendors hawked Obama T-shirts. One shirt was a baseball jersey with a big number "44" on the back. By 7 a.m., some 207,000 people had entered Washington's Metrotransit system, transit officials said. Huge lines formed outside subway stations; many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.

"Platforms are extremely crowded," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. Lines were six to 10 deep at fare machines.

Shortly after 9:30 a.m. Metro officials said someone fell onto the subway tracks at the Gallery Place station on the Red Line and was struck by a train, prompting officials to close two stations and turn around some trains. The closure forced people to walk further to reach the National Mall.

Warming tents and other facilities on the Mall were late opening because traffic and crowds delayed staffers from reaching them. Ticket holders approaching the inaugural site on Capitol Hill awaited security sweeps in a line estimated at thousands.

Christian Alderson of Berryville, Va., said he went to Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 to support the sanitation workers strike and said he was there when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

"That day was sorrowful," Alderson, 73, said as he stood near the mall. "This is a dream come true for me."

At the opposite end of town, Georgetown University students chanted "Obama!" and "Fired up Ready to Go!" as they walked down M Street toward the Mall.

Police were predicting attendance could top the 1.2 million people at Lyndon Johnson's 1965 inauguration. That is the largest crowd the National Park Service has on record.

President Ronald Reagan's 1981 inauguration drew about 500,000 people, while President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration drew about 800,000 people, according to park service estimates.

Reid Epstein, John Valenti and The Associated Press contributed to this report

- >>See celebrities at inauguration ceremonies

- >> Barack Obama's journey from 'Barry' to president

-- >>Newsday's inauguration coverage

More news