updated 12/19/2008 1:56:37 PM ET 2008-12-19T18:56:37

President-elect Barack Obama will welcome Americans to his inauguration at the memorial to his political hero, Abraham Lincoln.

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The Lincoln Memorial is heavy with symbolism for Obama, who will arrive on its steps on Jan. 18 following a train ride that traces Lincoln's own inaugural path from Philadelphia to Washington.

The memorial is also where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, and the event comes a day before the nation celebrates the King holiday on Jan. 19. The inauguration is on Jan. 20.

"It is one of the great, patriotic symbols of our country," Presidential Inaugural Committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass said Friday. "It's a symbol of the American spirit; it's a symbol of unity; it's a symbol of our values. So for all those reasons it's an appropriate place to celebrate an inauguration that is really built around celebrating our common values as a people."

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also used the Lincoln Memorial for inaugural events, but the building may have more resonance for Obama. When construction was completed in 1922, the crowd gathered at its dedication was largely segregated.

The welcome event will be free and open to the public.

The King holiday will be devoted to a call to service, with Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden volunteering in the Washington area.

After the first of the year, the inaugural committee will launch a Web site that allows organizations to post volunteer opportunities for that day so Americans across the country can find opportunities to serve.

"We hope that site is really going to result in a very spirited call to service and engagement around the country," Douglass said.

There will be a free youth concert at the Verizon Center on Jan. 19, the night before the inauguration. Tickets will be required, but the committee has not yet determined how they would be distributed.

Earlier in the week, the committee released details of the inauguration, including performances by Aretha Franklin and Yo-Yo Ma and a prayer from the Rev. Rick Warren, a choice that has prompted outrage from gay rights groups.

As many as 4 million visitors are expected to be on hand when Obama takes the noontime oath.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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