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On Eve of Inauguration, Obama Celebrates MLK Jr

  • VOA News

On the eve of his historic inauguration, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is paying tribute to the late African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. by focusing on community service.

The president-elect today (Monday) visited a shelter for homeless teenagers, where he greeted volunteers, and picked up a paint roller to help paint the walls. He called for all Americans to get involved in community projects.

Mr. Obama went on to a stadium where his wife, Michelle Obama, was helping to assemble care packages for U.S. troops. The incoming president also visited wounded U.S. troops at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an annual federal holiday traditionally marked by participating in civic volunteer activities.

Mr. Obama (in a written statement) said today is not simply a day to reflect on Reverend King's work, but a day to act. He urged people to turn their service efforts into an ongoing commitment to enriching their communities and the lives of others.

Mr. Obama is to become the first African-American U.S. president. He noted that many will gather to witness his historic swearing-in on the same stretch of park land where people gathered in 1963 to hear Reverend King speak about racial equality.

Later today, Mr. Obama hosts separate dinners to honor Republican Senator John McCain, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president-elect, will host a free inaugural concert for young people to honor military families.

Crowd expectations for Inauguration Day vary from one million to more, but one person who will not be in attendance is Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is to stay on as defense chief in the Obama administration.

The White House today (Monday) announced that Gates is the "designated successor" who will be at an undisclosed location during the inauguration. The goal is to ensure the continuity of government in case something calamitous happens when the outgoing and incoming presidents are together.

Excitement in Washington is intense on inauguration eve. All around Washington, final preparations are under way for the historic occasion. The official celebration began Sunday, with a jubilant celebrity-filled outdoor concert attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

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