Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, paying a visit yesterday to a virtually all-black elementary school in Prince George's County to commemorate black history month, asked students to name a song written by the late Eubie Blake, a ragtime composer from Baltimore who died in 1983 at 103.
When no one could answer immediately, Hughes had one ready: " 'I'm Just Wild about Harry,' " he said, adding, "So he was a great man."
In what was billed by an aide as a "105 percent educational" visit to John H. Bayne School in Capitol Heights, the governor gave a 20-minute black history lesson to eager fifth and sixth graders and then addressed the entire school assembled in the gymnasium-auditorium.
It seemed a welcome respite for Hughes, whose plans to run for the U.S. Senate have been clouded by his role in the state's savings and loan crisis. "I must say, I was a little nervous at first," Hughes told Charlotte Gay's class of 21 mostly sixth grade students. "But after the warm welcome, I relaxed immediately."
Then came the tough one. "Gov. Hughes," a student asked, "what are you going to be next?"
"Well, that's an interesting question. I've been asked that several times," said Hughes, who was seated at a round table facing the students. Hughes responded:
"Right now, I'm still governor. I'm giving that my undivided attention. Then, I'm seriously thinking of running for election to the U.S. Senate."
Said Lavora Payne, 11, who sat at the front of the class, "This lesson is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me."
Indeed, Hughes' visit also was important for the school, which has 377 students, of whom 97.9 percent are black. Bayne is one of 11 schools in the county that are considered too far from white schools to integrate and, consequently, are receiving extra staff and equipment under court order.
The welcome for Hughes was warm. "Good afternoon, Gov. Hughes and welcome to our class," the students said in unison.
"I'll bet you've never had a governor come and speak with you," he said.
"No, Gov. Hughes, we have not had a governor sit in our room and speak with us," the students said in unison. The teacher explained that her students have been trained to answer in complete sentences.
"It's going to be a long class," the governor said.
Hughes then talked to the students about famous black Marylanders, including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Referring occasionally to typed note cards, Hughes added bits of information to facts the students volunteered. He then fielded a dozen questions.
David Body, a sixth grader, gave him a small stuffed bear, which is the school mascot. "I've been annointed," Hughes said.