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U.S. Celebrates As President Obama Vows New Era

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Barack Obama promised to tap the virtues and resiliency of Americans as his administration ushers in an era of accountability and improved dialogue with the world.

In his inaugural address Tuesday, Obama thanked those who sacrificed so much so "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."

People crowded the National Mall and surrounding area that encompasses the Capitol, White House and Lincoln Memorial. They sang, danced and waved flags as Obama's swearing-in approached.

"This is America happening," said Evadey Minott of Brooklyn, New York. "It was prophesized by King that we would have a day when everyone would come together. This is that day. I am excited. I am joyful. It brings tears to my eyes."

Many in the crowd seemed moved as Aretha Franklin belted out a rousing version of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" before Joe Biden was sworn in as vice president. See, zoom in on satellite image of inauguration crowd

Wearing a navy suit and red tie, Obama repeated the oath of office, his hand on the same Bible used in President Abraham Lincoln's first inauguration.

When Obama took the podium, however, the jubilant crowd grew somber and quiet, hanging on his every word. There was only scattered applause -- punctuated by an occasional "That's right" or "Amen."

Obama acknowledged the challenges facing the country and boldly asserted, "Know this, America -- they will be met." He promised to end petty squabbles on Capitol Hill, bring "old friends and former enemies" into the fold, and invoked the Bible, saying, "The time has come to set aside childish things."

He also vowed to leave Iraq to its people, responsibly, and to finish forging "a hard-earned peace" in Afghanistan. To Muslims, he promised "a new way forward, based on mutual interest," and to terrorists, he leveled a threat: "You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

He vowed to tackle the nation's economic woes forcefully and guaranteed accountability among those who handle taxpayer dollars. But the economy is not all that is reeling, he said, referencing "a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable."

The challenges are daunting, he said, but anyone who underestimates this nation has forgotten about its past perseverance.

"Greatness is never a given. It must be earned," he said.

His words resounded with spectators and revelers who let out deafening cheers after his address. Spectator L.J. Caldwell likened Obama to some of the most heroic figures of the civil rights movement.

"When you think back, Malcolm [X] fought. Then we come a little further, Rosa Parks sat. Then come up a little further and [the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.] spoke. Then today, President Obama ran and we won," said Caldwell, of Somerset, New Jersey.

After the address, hundreds of thousands remained on the National Mall as Obama went inside the Capitol and signed his first documents as the 44th president of the United States. Among those were his Cabinet nominations. The Senate approved most of those nominations later in the day.

"I was told not to swipe the pen," Obama quipped after signing a proclamation of national renewal and reconciliation.

Obama then lunched with lawmakers at the Capitol's Statuary Hall, telling them, "What's happening today is not about me. It is about the American people.

Americans, he said, "have come together across races and regions and stations. Now we have to do the same. Now it falls to us, the people's representatives, to give our fullest measure of devotion to the cause of freedom and liberty and justice, decency and dignity."

Later, the crowds flocked to barricades along Pennsylvania Avenue as Obama's motorcade crawled by.

Many said before the festivities that they did not have tickets and would be happy to catch a mere glimpse of the nation's first African-American president.

At St. John's Episcopal Church, where the Obamas kicked off a packed day of festivities, 9-year-old Laura Bruggerman waited with her mother, Wendy, and father, Jeff, of Bethesda, Maryland. The affable crowd tried to let shorter onlookers and children to the front for better views.

"I want to see Obama. I think that would be really cool. I could tell all of my friends that I got to see him," the youngster said.

Some spectators were more than a mile from the swearing-in ceremony, watching on giant TV screens erected along the National Mall.

Security was tight in Washington. The effort involved the Secret Service, 8,000 police officers from the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions, 10,000 National Guard troops, about 1,000 FBI personnel, and hundreds of others from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Park Service and U.S. Capitol Police.

The ceremony also drew celebrities like Dustin Hoffman, Denzel Washington and Steven Spielberg.

"It's behind the dream. We're just here feeling it with the throngs of people. It's amazing grace personified," Oprah Winfrey said, sitting next actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Obama and congressional leaders formally bade farewell to Bush, and the now-former president took a presidential jet to Midland, Texas, shortly afterward.

As Obama and his wife, Michelle, made their way to the White House, they stepped out of their limousine amid another round of boisterous hoorahs.

The first couple beamed as they walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to the throngs kept back by police barriers. They walked a few blocks before returning to their vehicle to finish the two-mile parade that took them to the White House.

"I have a sneaky suspicion that Barack and Michelle will be out and about on the streets of Washington [during his term]. ... You'll see them again," said Tracy Miller, who was watching the Obamas.
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Upon arriving at the White House, Obama and his family entered a reviewing stand to watch the rest of the inauguration parade. The Obamas will close the night by attending 10 official inaugural balls.

After a day and night of events celebrating his historic presidency, Obama and his family will officially take up residence at the White House.




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