Obama at the steps of history
Senator to be sworn in as first black president today

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama stood at the threshold of the White House on Monday, summoning fellow Americans to join him in service as tens of thousands flocked to the nation's capital to celebrate his inauguration as the first black president.

'Tomorrow we will come together as one people on the same Mall where Dr. King's dream echoes still,' said the president-elect, invoking the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the national holiday in his honor.

The 47-year-old former senator takes office at noon today at a time of economic crisis at home and two wars overseas. But the challenges of the moment receded into the background for many who came for a chance to witness history.

'I didn't think I would see a black president in my generation. I just had to be here,' said Donald Butler, 20, a University of Washington student.

'I'm just really happy that I'm living to see this wonderful event,' said 70-year-old Betty Bryant, who rode a chartered bus from Augusta, Ga. Standing in front of the icy Reflecting Pool facing the Capitol, she made plans to rise at 3 a.m. today to take her place on the Mall for the swearing-in.

For Obama, the day was stripped of partisan politics, and he ended it by lavishing praise on Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his opponent in last fall's campaign. In remarks prepared for a dinner in honor of his one-time rival, he called the former Vietnam prisoner of war a 'rare and courageous public servant,' who places country before party.

'Let us strive always to find that common ground, and to defend together those common ideals, for it is the only way we can meet the very big and very serious challenges that we face right now,' said Obama, who also arranged to attend dinners for Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican.

Uniformed military personnel patrolled Washington street corners, the advance guard of a massive security presence planned for the oath-taking, inaugural speech, parade and other festivities. Officers checked out some suspicious packages and vehicles, but everything was cleared, said FBI spokesman Richard Kolko. 'The city and the people seem to be in a good mood and good spirits,' he said. 'Security is going well, that's what all the planning is for.'

On the specially built inaugural stands outside the Capitol, musicians Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman rehearsed for their role in today's ceremonies.

George W. Bush was in the White House for a final full day as president after two terms marked by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the economic collapse of 2008. He placed calls to world leaders, including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and commuted the prison sentences of two former Border Patrol Guards.

This morning, he and first lady Laura Bush will greet Obama and his wife, Michelle, at the storied mansion's front portico and see them in for a brief visit. By the time Obama returns at mid-afternoon, he will be the nation's 44th president, and Bush will be en route to a Texas retirement.

SideBar: If you watch

· Inauguration festivities start at 10 a.m

· Barack Obama set to be sworn in at noon.

· All major television networks will carry the inauguration

Gates to the Inaugural Ceremony open at 8 a.m. The inaugural festivities are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. They will include:

· Musical selections of The United States Marine Band, followed by the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

· Sen. Dianne Feinstein provides call to order and welcoming remarks.

· Invocation by the Rev. Rick Warren.

· Musical selection of Aretha Franklin.

· Biden will be sworn into office by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

· Musical selection of John Williams, composer/arranger with Itzhak Perlman, (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet).

· Obama will take the Oath of Office, using President Lincoln's Inaugural Bible, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. Scheduled around noon.

· Obama gives the inaugural address.

· Poem by Elizabeth Alexander.

· Benediction by Rev. Joseph E. Lowery.

· The National Anthem by The United States Navy Band "Sea Chanters.'