BALTIMORE, DEC. 8 -- Promising to make a "great city better," Baltimore's first elected black mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke, called today for a war on illiteracy in an inaugural address before an estimated 12,000 supporters.

In a low-key speech characteristic of the scholarly Schmoke, the city's 46th mayor made his top priority improvements in the city's school system but said progress will come only when "we depart from the me generation and join the we generation."

Striking many of the same themes he used in his campaign, Schmoke, 38, called for cooperation among city's diverse ethnic and economic groups and repeated a pledge to draw neighborhood groups into his administration.

The Harvard Law School graduate and Rhodes scholar was given the oath of office by Circuit Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman. The clerk of the Baltimore Circuit Court usually gives the oath but the new mayor asked that honor be given Hammerman, who 24 years ago predicted Schmoke would become Baltimore's first black mayor.

Technically that distinction belongs to Clarence (Du) Burns, who was appointed mayor last January when former Mayor William Donald Schaefer became governor. Schmoke defeated Burns in the September Democratic primary and went on to handily defeat Republican Samuel Culotta in the general election.

Schmoke, the first mayor in memory who didn't rise from the city's powerful political clubs and whose only elective office has been that of state's attorney, said he intended to work closely with the City Council and the state and federal governments.

Conspiciously absent from the ceremonies, despite a handwritten invitation, was Schaefer, who openly dislikes Schmoke and actively worked against the new mayor's election. Schaefer said yesterday he would attend a dinner at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, where he was to receive the school's Founder's Day medal and an honorary degree.