T ONE END OF THE NATIONAL MALL loomed the marble image of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.

At the other end, the extraordinary sight of Barack Hussein Obama, lifting his hand to join Lincoln's line of succession.

Spanning the nearly two miles between them lay a cheering, multicultural sea of faces - more than one million, the largest inaugural crowd ever to descend upon Washington. Most would not have envisioned this moment even a year ago.

Seven score and six years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the first African American president in U.S. history was taking the oath of office.

Obama did so with his palm on the same velvet-covered Bible used by Lincoln in 1861, when the 16th president was sworn in by an openly racist chief justice who viewed blacks as inferior and unfit to be citizens.

Obama did so in full view of the reflecting pool where crowds gathered, a century after Lincoln's edict, to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaim his dream of racial equality to a nation still polarized by skin color.

He did so before many who had come long distances in buses - once symbols of strife in the era of Rosa Parks and school desegregation, now vessels of rolling celebration.

The crowd's cheers even interrupted the invocation, of all things, when Obama was proclaimed the nation's first president of color.

The throng heard the new president deliver an artful but sober speech, cautious yet hopeful in the face of economic despair at home and disdain abroad from both allies and foes.

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility," Obama said.

And he urged the crowd to mark the distance traveled since Lincoln's day, to celebrate that "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." H