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'I, Barack Hussein Obama . . .'

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President Barack Obama delivers his inaugural address Tuesday following his swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Video by washingtonpost.com

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By Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 20, 2009; 10:14 PM

Left hand resting on an ancient, sacred text, right hand raised to write a new chapter of the American story, Barack Obama stood on a platform at the Capitol, poised to recite the presidential oath of office. He turned his face toward the slanting, winter sun.

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It was 12:04 p.m., the moment of Obama's promise. The promise that people saw in him mingled with the promise he would make to the people. Over the next 31 seconds, swearing on Abraham Lincoln's Bible before Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Obama would transform himself from potential to president.

He took an icy breath. He warmed it into words that rushed, eager, tumbling over Roberts's slightly off-script prompts, his declaration echoing off the monuments on the Mall, reverberating across the country and the world. From Los Angeles to Mathare, a group of slums in Nairobi, people witnessed the ceremony as it was broadcast live, and they reflected on Obama's words.

'I, Barack Hussein Obama . . .'

In Chicago, Nancy MacLean, an American history professor, passed out tissues for the tears that would come. She sat in a roomful of progressives in Rogers Park who had knocked on doors for Obama and worked so hard for this moment.

The big screen stood in the living room where Barack Obama once sat, years ago, a Chicago pol raising money for a quixotic U.S. Senate run. Now, as Obama began to recite the oath, the room fell silent.

"do solemnly swear . . ."

In New York's Times Square, Susan Jacks covered her face with a red-mittened hand and wept. A stranger standing beside her, Nils Folke Anderson, put a large arm around her.

"I'm a mess in a dress," Jacks said.

Jacks and Anderson were among the estimated 3,000 who could have stayed indoors, to watch the events in warm homes or offices, but didn't. Giant screens in Times Square that show underwear and Coke advertisements tuned in to history.

Uptown, in the Harlem Armory on 142nd Street, about 3,000 schoolchildren and residents watched on three large screens. Mbayang Kasse and Amina Niass, both 11 and in sixth grade, rose, staring at Obama's face. As other kids screamed and waved flags, they were solemn. Both little girls placed their right hands over their hearts and repeated the oath along with Obama.

"that I will execute the office . . ."

In Los Angeles, at Pizza Italia in a tough section of the city's downtown, Khatchik Tachtchian stood at the stove, chopping green peppers wearing clear plastic gloves, beneath a television picture of Obama raising his right hand.

A customer, Jerry Guzman, set his coffee on the counter, watching the little TV above the cash register. Guzman's nephew, Carlos, who has less seniority than his uncle in a company that laid off 20 people last week, sent him a text message:

"I'M TRYING TO KEEP MY JOB. I DON'T HAVE TIME TO WATCH TV."


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