Given its problems, "the nation is walking on eggshells right now," said Kenneth Martin, 40, a white airline pilot from Denver visiting the Lincoln Memorial.
Even so, Obama's election has provided a reason for optimism.
David Brown, 20, a pre-med student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said Obama responded to the financial crisis "pretty calmly and coolly, and I'm pretty sure that's how he'll be as president. He's not going to try to do everything himself. He'll get good people on his team."
Tijuane McLittle, 31, a Detroit hair salon owner, agreed. "I hope that this evokes a new spirit in urban America," McLittle said. "I hope it brings out the Obama in everyone. Now that we have a black president, that's fine and dandy. But black people need to step up to the plate or else Barack Obama being president is in vain."
Changing corporate culture
In Denver, Herman Malone, 61, took the day off from running RMES Communication, a telecommunications firm that provides phone, Internet and other services to the Denver airport. Malone, former chairman of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, predicted major changes in corporate America because of Obama's victory.
"The most powerful position in the country is headed by an African-American," he said. "These CEOs are not stupid. They're going to say, 'I've got to get some African Americans on my board, some women, some minorities.' This is a major shift."
There were worries, however. The Rev. Joe Ellwanger, 75, said he asked God to "protect our president-to-be — recognizing there are kooks out there."
Ellwanger knows. In 1963 he was one of the few white, pro-civil rights pastors in Birmingham when the Sixteenth Street church was bombed. He spoke at the funeral of one of the slain girls.
On Wednesday, he was in LaCrosse, Wis., working as a community organizer.
Ellwanger said the energy and organization that characterized the candidate's campaign must carry over to the new president's administration: "Grass-roots organizing must be the wind in Obama's sail now. Without it, he won't have the political support he needs.'