Obama Pays Tribute to Martin Luther King on Eve of Inauguration

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, on the eve of his inauguration, is paying tribute to the late civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mr. Obama also used the day to urge Americans to become involved in community service.

Mr. Obama helped paint walls at a shelter for homeless teenagers and had lunch with volunteers supporting American troops at home and overseas on Monday.

The president-elect also visited injured military veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama's inauguration, coming the day after Monday's federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., adds to the deep symbolism of the first African American to be sworn in as President of the United States.

The president-elect, joined by his wife Michelle, thanked volunteers and said such service is an appropriate way to remember the legacy of Reverend King.

"It is fitting that all of you and hundreds of thousands, maybe more than a million people through 11,000 service projects all across the country, today commemorated Dr. King and got involved in this process of remaking America," said Barack Obama.

The 47-year-old president-elect is the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother. He grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia.

Mr. Obama will be sworn in as the nation's 44th president on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and will deliver a much-anticipated inaugural address.

He joked about saving his best lines for Tuesday's ceremony and then seemed to hint at what are expected to be some major themes and goals of his presidency.

"I am making a commitment to you as your next president that we are going to make government work," said Mr. Obama. "[Applause and Cheers] We are going to make sure that government is listening to you and focused on you, making sure that people have health care, kids can go to college and people can pay their bills and folks are able to stay in their homes and get good jobs that pay a living wage. That is my job."

Mr. Obama says all Americans must take responsibility for improving their communities and pledged that he and his family will continue working on service projects after he becomes president.

Excitement is already building in Washington and officials are expecting as many as two million people to arrive on the National Mall to witness Mr. Obama's inauguration.

African American Vanessa Wiltz, from Houston, Texas, had tears in her eyes as she described coming to Washington to, as she put it, "soak up history".  

"I just think about my grandmother, and I think about how far we have come as a country and how amazing it is to be here as Americans," said Vanessa Wiltz. "This is awesome. It really is."

Vanessa's sister, Jeneda Wiltz, says she believes the country will unite behind President-elect Obama.

"We are out here witnessing a big step for the citizens of the United States," she said. "We are finally united, not by color, but by people. What our forefathers have fought for so long has finally come to truth."

All around Washington, final preparations are underway for the inauguration and security is expected to be very tight.  Parties, balls and other celebrations will follow Mr. Obama's oath-taking and the inaugural parade.  

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