- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009


President-elect Barack Obama addressed a massive crowd at the Lincoln Memorial, speaking of hope but also of challenges that face the government he is about to head.

Mr. Obama evoked the memory — and dreams — of Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is celebrated on Monday.

Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Mr. Obama painted his election as the legacy of Mr. King’s March on Washington 46 years earlier as he paid tribute to “the glory of a people who marched and bled so that their children might be judged by their character’s content.”

Amid the heart of monumental Washington, Mr. Obama kicked off the beginning of an historic inaugural week by paying tribute to those memorialized here, from King to those who won World War II to President Lincoln, “the man who in so many ways made this day possible.”

“I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of American will endure, that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time,” he said.

But Mr. Obama, taking a moment in the middle of a festival of music and celebrity, warned that his elevation alone does not end the struggles.

“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.”

Among the thousands who came to the event Sunday was Pittsburgh resident Jeffery Bellaton, who was dressed against the cold in a Steeler jersey.

His beloved team would play later that day in Pittsburgh for a chance to reach the Super Bowl, but that meant little to him at the moment.

“I’d rather miss the game than miss this,” said Mr. Bellaton, 43. “It’s once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Officials estimated 500,000 people would attend the events for President-elect Barack Obama. Officials at the Inaugural Joint Information Center declined to give an official estimate but reported no problems. An estimated 1 to 2 million are expected for the swearing-in Tuesday.

Those who came to the events Sunday had to wait for about 10 minutes to pass through one of the five security tents but did not have to go through metal detectors.

Some in the crowd did jumping jacks or sang gospel songs to keep warm in temperatures that hovered near freezing.

“I’d rather they change the inauguration to April,” said Caroline Bogucki, 27 and a Georgetown University graduate student. “I don’t know who decide to change it [from March] but we’ll make do.”

The Jumbotron TVs that officials put along the Mall for visitors to see the stage ran shows of Sesame Street character Elmo and TV talk show host Ellen Degeneres, who has Mr. Obama, Democrat, dance withe her during the presidential campaigns.

Still, a few spectators climbed the barren hardwoods that line the Mall for a better view of the stage as the 2:30 p.m. show time approached.

They got their first glimpse of Mr. Obama, the country’ first black president, and wife Michelle as they descended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 46 years after civil right leader Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech there.

“This has been surreal,” Mr. Parker said. “One day when I am in an old folks home I will be telling people about this.”

Actor Denzel Washington began the official events.

“We came together filled with optimism and hope,” he told the crowd. “On this day we are inspired by the man we have elected the 44th president.”

He was followed by songwriter Bruce Springsteen singing “The Rising,” which brought a huge roar from the crowd.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden followed.

“When I wasgrowing up, I was taught to treasure our family and that anybody can make it give a fair chance,” he said.

The concert, which was broadcast live by HBO, is the first of the official events, which include 10 balls, celebrating Mr. Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president.

Authorities were ready for the event, line the Mall with chain-linked fence and using Humvees to close streets to vehicles and helicopters whirred overhead.

Still some overwhelmed a crossing guards who tried in vain to stop people from walking in the street.

“I would have been here one way or another,” said Alice Wilkes, 59, a crossing guard at Constitution Avenue Northwest. “When I get here at eight this morning there was already a huge line to get in. It has been so great. Everyone is so happy, you can’t beat it.”

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