- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

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.”

Sean Brown of Atlanta, 39, compared this moment for his generation to the moments during the civil rights era, which defined his parents and their historic memories.

“Growing up, there were always three pictures in every black household: Martin Luther King, [John F.] Kennedy and Jesus Christ,” he said. The Obama election and inauguration enables him and other black Americans his age “to kinda feel it. … Now, I could put up an Obama picture and really grasp the feeling. It really brings it home.”

Sandra Baxter-Lewis, 41, from San Jose, Calif., spoke similarly of black America’s collective memory, saying she was continually seeing “when Martin Luther King did his speech in Washington and how my family looked at that.”

“I wanted to be involved with it here so I could tell my kids and grandkids when they see the footage on TV [years later]. I can tell them, ‘I was there in Washington for that,’” she said. “I never thought I’d see it in this lifetime - the United States with a black president. But it’s happening, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

On stage for the event, broadcast live by HBO, all was adulation and celebration. Mr. Springsteen opened with “The Rising,” which was a staple of the campaign playlist for Mr. Obama’s rallies, and the stars kept coming from Mary J. Blige to Jon Bon Jovi.

Revelers started lining up at dawn to get in place for the 8 a.m. gate opening but still hours before the concert’s 2:30 p.m. start time. They braved a snow forecast and frigid weather to secure the best possible position for the big show.

Many presenters evoked the civil rights struggle. U2 performed “Pride (In the Name of Love),” which is about King’s vision of freedom and unity, one that frontman Bono pointedly called not just an American dream, but also “an Irish dream, a European dream, African dream, Israeli dream, and also, a Palestian dream.”

The Irish singer also said that “on Tuesday, that dream comes to pass.”

Actor Samuel L. Jackson said King’s sacrifice “made it possible for me to be here today” and that “his dream is being realized by all of us being here today.”

When concluding “America the Beautiful,” singer Beyonce belted out: “America, we are one” - a reference to the name of the concert.

“We are celebrating not just the inauguration of a new president but the ongoing journey for America to be America,” said actress-singer Queen Latifah.

Garth Brooks’ rendition of “American Pie” prompted the crowd to boogie, and even Mrs. Obama danced in her seat. Thousands danced and sang along as the song morphed into the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” Even some reporters in the press area were spotted laughing and joining in.

The capital’s political stars were also in attendance. Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. waved at friends in the crowd as he was escorted through the secure area. He did not respond to a reporter’s shouted question about his confirmation hearings.

Mrs. Pelosi, Cabinet nominees Timothy F. Geithner and Tom Vilsack, and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty also were present, as was film director George Lucas, to whom some fans shouted, “Thank you for ‘Star Wars.’”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said it was a moving day: “It’s the first concert I’ve gone to and cried,” she said, adding that her favorite moment was when Pete Seeger led the crowd in “This Land Is Your Land.”

U2 also performed the band’s “City of Blinding Lights.” Bono said it was an honor that Mr. Obama had chosen the upbeat tune as his theme song. Mr. Obama’s campaign played the tune when the Democrat announced his candidacy in Springfield, Ill., in February 2007, and at each rally along the way.

Bono changed some of the lyrics, saying “America” is ready to leave the ground. He also led the crowd in a chant of “Let freedom ring.”

• Sean Lengell and Timothy Warren contributed to this report.

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