At a celebration of music and poetry at Howard University last night, a curtain was lifted on some black cultural messages of the 1980s. And it was best summed up as pointed vigilance:

"Have you been listening to your local radio station lately/Have you been checking out your television/ . . . They insist on using all these brain-teasers and tongue-twisters/when all they have to say is/more hard times for niggers ." -- Jeanean Gibbs.

"The Message Makers," a collective of Washington poets, presented "Notes To Black Folks," a program that mixed the musical assurance of "He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother," with sharp challenges from literary and political activist Amiri Baraka as well as with political observation and troubles between the sexes.

If the poetry of the 1950s and '60s had an ear to the sidewalk and heard the signals of those times, then this moment's analysts are taking a yeasty amalgamation of the past to shape a defiance against the current conservatism.

"It's an overdue freedom song/and it's right on time." -- Veretta Woodard Baraka, who set many of the standards for the pride and rage of the '60s' black poetry, proved to be a cultural constant. When he spoke last night of the historical role of the black artist as an interpreter of resistance and struggle, the audience of 200 people cheered. " In the '80s, the grim and challenging developments should inspire us . . . The racist establishment made war, is still making war, and it won't stop until we make war on it," said Baraka. "These people still don't understand black people . . . They don't understand who is here with them . . . They will have to send out police to protect the Klan."

"Our fingerprints are everywhere on you America" -- Amiri Baraka.

Baraka was joined by Washington actor Lyn Dyson, a jazz group The Oba Ensemble, singers Rose Marie Simms and Sterling McQueen and poets E. Thelbert Miller and the seven women who are members of "The Message Makers." Ambrosia Shepherd, the founder of the group read the poem "Stop Looking Black People and See" written by actor Robert Hooks. Its title underscored the messages of the evening.