Obama officially becomes president

Bernard Schoenburg
Thousands crowd the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol at Tuesday morning to get glimpse of history as Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President.

With his left hand planted on a Bible used by the man who freed the slaves, Barack Obama ushered in a new era in American history Tuesday when he became the first black president of the United States.

Obama’s swearing in capped a meteoric five-year rise that saw him go from being a little-known Illinois politician to a president swept into office by a wave of voters who latched on to his message of hope.

The new president seemed to offer a solution for a country beset by wars, financial meltdowns and divisive politics that left both major parties fighting themselves and each other.

Millions of revelers gathered in Washington exulted in the fact that the old saying has been proven true: In America, anybody can be president.

On a cold, clear day, overlooking a huge crowd that filled the National Mall, Obama, 47, was sworn in by United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. He took the oath of office on a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln when he was sworn in in 1861.

With his wife, Michelle, holding the Bible, Obama stumbled on the oath in a couple of places, but calmly completed it to become the 44th president, touching off a celebration among the crowd gathered on the mall.

In the ticketed area in front of the balcony where Obama was sworn in, people-watching was as important to some in the crowd as president-watching. Among celebrities in the area were actresses Tyne Daly and Jamie Lee Curtis, but the biggest stir among the crowd came when Oprah Winfrey walked by. Also in the area was Bruce Springsteen, who sang at the opening ceremony on Sunday.

Leading up to the swearing-in, chants of “Obama” broke out among the flag-waving crowd on the National Mall. The festive atmosphere carried into the celebrity crowd as, at one point, Curtis started dancing with a man as the Marine Corps band played.

After taking the oath, Obama said that he was "humbled" by his inauguration.

"Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath," Obama said. "The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers and true to our founding documents. So it has been, so it must be with this generation of Americans."

The son of a Kenyan father and a white mother, Obama vaulted into the spotlight in 2004, when his speech at the Democratic National Convention stole the show and positioned him as a major contender for 2008 campaign. After surviving a bruising primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton and defeating John McCain in the general election, he set about trying to mend old wounds by naming Clinton as his nominee for Secretary of State and former Republican Congressman Ray LaHood as his Secretary of Transportation.

But although Tuesday was a day of celebration, Obama acknowledged the challenges facing him as the country deals with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and ongoing economic problems.

"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age," he said.

"Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily, or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met."