As the clock hit noon, history was made as the presidential seat was occupied by the nation's first African American president, Barak Hussein Obama.

In his inaugural speech, he reminded the nation to choose hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord to overcome the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Obama and his family attended a private service at St. John's Episcopal Church, a tradition for those about to become president. The family of Vice President-elect Joe Biden also attended. The Obamas waved to bystanders, then entered the church to applause from about 200 people. The choir and congregation began singing the hymn, O God Our Help in Ages Past.''

With 11 million Americans out of work and trillions of dollars lost in the stock market's tumble, Obama emphasized the need for hard work to overcome the challenges the nation faces. When speaking about work to be done, he mentioned the economy first, alluding to government programs already being considered. Obama's predecessor George Bush, in attendance for the ceremony, leaves office amid a weakened economy, having begun some of the federal initiatives to restore the financial system.

The 44th president stood opposite the Lincoln Memorial, two miles away, where 45 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. called upon the nation to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Mr. Obama spent Monday celebrating Dr. King's birthday as a day of service, while street vendors sold memorabilia juxtaposing the images of the two black leaders.