Commanding the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, President-elect Barack Obama on Sunday summoned the greatness of Martin Luther King and the sacrifices of the civil rights era as he tempered a celebratory throng of hundreds of thousands with a warning that tackling this generation’s problems will “test our resolve as a nation.”
Two days before stepping into the White House, Mr. Obama took his message to the heart of monumental Washington while paying tribute to America’s many heroes, from those who won World War II to former President Abraham Lincoln, whom he hailed as “the man who in so many ways made this day possible.”
Standing on the spot where King led a civil rights march 45 years ago, the president-elect recalled “the glory of a people who marched and bled so that their children might be judged by their character’s content.” And he implored Americans to use the same resolve to tackle today’s problems of war and economic crisis.
“I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that it will prevail, that the dream of our Founders will live on in our time,” he said, capping off a two-hour concert that featured performances by U2 and Bruce Springsteen and readings by Tom Hanks and Tiger Woods. Actor Jamie Foxx even did a brief impersonation of Mr. Obama’s election-night victory speech.
Amid the adulation of the stars of music, movies and sports, Mr. Obama warned that his elevation does not end the struggle for the American dream.
“I won’t pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy. It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many,” he said. “Along the way, there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our resolve as a nation.”
But such cautions hardly mattered to the enormous crowd, which transformed the streets around the memorials into a giant Obama party. Live newscasts from the Mall showed a backdrop of cheering fans, and pedestrians spent money on Obama memorabilia as they flocked to the Lincoln Memorial grounds.
“It is just a wonderful feeling to be a part of this crowd,” said Robert Coope, 53, of Miami, who was staying with his daughter who lives in the District and works for the federal government.
Meanwhile, even as Mr. Obama sounded a uniting theme, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she would be open to a congressional investigation into President Bush’s firings of U.S. attorneys and other actions. She also told “Fox News Sunday” that Democrats would consider repealing Mr. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, rather than letting them expire on the current schedule as Mr. Obama has hinted.
On the eve of King’s holiday, the man who will be the nation’s first black president gazed out at the Reflecting Pool, where hundreds of thousands had gathered to hear King decades earlier.
“His dream is being realized by all of us being here today,” said actor Samuel L. Jackson.
Mr. Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and their families sat behind thick panes of bulletproof glass on the stage, occasionally singing along.
Mr. Obama laughed when Mr. Foxx mimicked the president-elect, and when Mr. Foxx shouted “Chi-town stand up” and “3-1-2” - Chicago’s principal area code - future first lady Michelle Obama stood.
Ramona Parks made the trip to Washington from Elk Grove, Calif., with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, and said she had dreamed of this week’s historic moment since she emigrated from Panama.
“I thought that eventually we would have a minority - a black man - in the office of the presidency, and therefore today it’s happened,” said Mrs. Parks, 68. “I want to be here and experience it, and I want my children to experience it. We’re going to have a lot to talk about for the next few years.”