In conjunction with Black History Month the Smithsonian Institution in Washington is sponsoring a variety of programs. This year's theme, "Educating America: Black Universities and Colleges -- Strengths and Crises," will be addressed by Niara Sudarkasa, president of Lincoln University. The lecture will take place tomorrow at noon in Carmichael Auditorium at the National Museum of American History. It will be followed by a poetry reading by E. Ethelbert Miller, director of the Afro-American Studies Center at Howard University.
"A Story, A Story," a production for children featuring music, dance, and folk tales from West African culture, continues through Feb. 23 at Discovery Theater in the Arts and Industry Building. There is an admission fee. Call (202) 357-1500.
The National Museum of Natural History will present "Black Mother, Black Daughter 1989," a 30-minute film, today and Feb. 9 at 4:15 p.m. in Baird Auditorium.
Retired Army Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. will lecture on his experiences as the commander of the first all-black American fighter squadron during World War II Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Air and Space Museum's Langley Theater. The lecture will be followed by a book-signing session.
The Gullah people of the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, a group of African-Americans who trace their heritage to West Africa (particularly Sierra Leone), will be the focus of a series of programs at the Museum of African Art. Among them are a lecture and film by Emory S. Campbell, executive director of the Penn Center of the Sea Islands, S.C., today at 2 p.m.; folk tales by Cornelia Bailey, folklorist and Gullah historian, Feb. 10 at 2 p.m.; workshops on basketmaking traditions, Feb. 16 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Feb. 17 from noon to 5 p.m.; a presentation on the rich story and musical traditions of Gullah communities by Thomas E. Hawley Jr. of the University of Maryland BaltimoreCounty on Feb. 18 at 2 p.m.; and a talk on the African aspects of Gullah religion by Margaret H. Washington, author and associate professor of history at Cornell University, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.
At the National Museum of American Art, free tours will focus on works by African-American artists on Sundays throughout February. Visitors should meet in the museum's lobby at 3 p.m. There will also be a discussion of the museum's current exhibition, "Harlem: Photographs by Aaron Siskind, 1932- 1940," by Maricia Battle, assistant curator at National Museum of American Art, on Feb. 13 at noon. Roy DeCarava, photographer and Hunter College professor, will discuss his work and its relationship to the New York City neighborhood on Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Programs at the National Museum of American History include ** "American Sampler . . . African- American Stories," tales of the 18th century and stories from Africa by Dylan Pritchett, supervisor of African-American programs at Colonial Williamsburg, Feb. 19-21 at 10:30 a.m. and noon. Call (202) 357-1481 for reservations. Also "Ancestral Missions: Preserving Our Foremothers' Legacies," a program focusing on the activism and organizing efforts prompted by black women, Feb. 23 from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The program includes a lecture, a dramatization of speeches by African-American women organizers, a tour of the museum's exhibition "From Parlor to Politics: Women and Reform in America, 1890-1925" and an oral-history presentation by political organizer and humanitarian Modjeska M. Simkins. These events will be held in the museum's Carmichael Auditorium.
"The Lives and Works of Black Actors of the Classical Theatre" DTC will be performed by Bill Grimmette Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the National Portrait Gallery. He will give readings of classical monologues that were performed by such well-known actors as Ira Aldrich, Charles Gilpin and Paul Robeson. For free reservations,call (202) 357-2729.
The Anacostia Museum will offer a video titled "Two Centuries of Black American Art," featuring stories and works by African American artists, Feb. 27 at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
All programs are free unless otherwise indicated. For information on other black history programs at the Smithsonian Institution, call (202) 357-2700.
Most are familiar with Mardi Gras, the round of merrymaking that precedes the Lenten season in New Orleans. Less familiar is "Fasnacht," a similar celebration of feasting and revelry before the abstinence of Lent. Fasnacht originated with the Druids and later was incorporated into Christian practices. Several centuries ago the Swiss adapted it into their religious celebration.
Following tradition the tiny Swiss community of Helvetia, W.Va., celebrates Fasnacht on the last Saturday before Lent. Located just west of the Allegheny Mountains in Randolph County, Helvetia was founded by Swiss immigrants who settled the land in north central West Virginia in the 19th century. The town has preserved its heritage and retained the atmosphere of Switzerland of the 1800s as well as that of the early American pioneer.
This year's celebration will take place on Saturday. It begins in the early evening with feasting at Helvetia's community hall, where an effigy of "Old Man Winter" hangs to symbolize the end of winter. Later, members of the community don handmade costumes and masks to participate in a procession through the streets, carrying "lampions," paper lanterns with Swiss designs. Following the procession, everyone returns to the community hall for dancing and more feasting. In the middle of the evening there is a ceremony with alphorns, yodeling, hand bells and Swiss flag tossing. This year's ceremony commemorates Switzerland's 700th birthday. Festivities conclude at midnight when the effigy of "Old Man Winter" is cut down and burned outside on a bonfire. Admission is $3.
Helvetia can be reached from Interstate 81 and Interstate 79 by way of West Virginia Routes 33 and 20 or Routes 250 and 219. For information, call (304) 924-6435.
Historic St. Mary's City presents a series of Tavern Nights and Concert Evenings featuring contemporary and traditional folk, country and bluegrass music. All of the concerts run from 8 p.m. until midnight. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
The State House concerts will be held in the old State House on the grounds of Maryland's outdoor museum at St. Mary's City. The first of these concerts will be a performance by the Celtic trio Iona on Feb. 16. Others include Celtic Sampler with Iona, Clish Maclaver and piper Neil Redmond, which will be held as a fund-raiser for the Southern Maryland Celtic Society, March 2; the Irish songs and tunes of Wild Geese on March 16; Hazelwood, a folk duo, on March 30; folk and maritime music of the Great Lakes by Privateer on April 6; American traditional music by Jeff Warner and Jeff Davis, April 13; Castlebay, music of the British Isles in a style described as "folk concert," April 27; and Mack Bailey, "new folk" and country, May 4.
Tavern Nights will be held in Farthing's Ordinary, a re-created 17th century inn which is also part of the St. Mary's City museum complex. This series showcases Southern Maryland bluegrass, country and folk musicians on Feb. 23, March 9 and April 20. Light food and drink will be available at Farthing's Ordinary during all of the concerts, and dinner will be served at the Ordinary before the State House Concerts.
Admission to all concerts is $5 per person, $3 for Friends of Historic St. Mary's City.
St. Mary's City is about six miles south of Lexington Park on Route 5. For information on the State House Concerts, call (301) 862-0990; on Tavern Nights or for dining at Farthing's Ordinary, call (301) 862-0989.