For a while last night, it seemed like old times.

Peter, Paul & Mary, the legendary folk singers, stood under the bright lights at the Kennedy Center and sang out a rousing medley of the great old songs -- most of the audience joined in on Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," and the song segued into a spirited, clap-along version of "If I Had a Hammer."

At the end, as must happen at such times, everybody stood and sang "We Shall Overcome."

"Peter, Paul & Mary were of course mere tots when I began my musical career," singer Harry Belafonte a little earlier told the packed Concert Hall. As he went on to praise the trio "for 25 years' commitment to peace and human rights and justice," the crowd broke into applause.

It was a night for memories for a tightly knit audience, many of whom worked in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. Peter, Paul & Mary were the official honorees, but the show was called "No Easy Walk to Freedom" and the purpose was to raise more than $50,000 for TransAfrica Forum, the Free South Africa Movement organization that has coordinated a yearlong series of protests resulting in arrests at the South African Embassy here.

sk,1 "Thank you for your music," Coretta Scott King told the trio members, who sat in the audience for the first part of the show, then went on stage later to receive awards and finally to conduct a concert of their own.

Said King: "In the civil rights movement, music . . . has been our courage as well as our inspiration . . . You've always been there when the movement needed you."

Feminist Gloria Steinem, the evening's cohost with Belafonte, recalled the old days when Peter, Paul & Mary sang in Greenwich Village and began linking their music with social causes that would help define a decade and a generation. They sang, she said, "and walls of bigotry have cracked and crumbled."

Steinem got a laugh by addressing Belafonte as "Senator," and he followed up with several jokes along the same line. Belfaonte is thinking of running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.).

South African Bishop Desmond Tutu's daughters, Mpho Tutu and Naomi Tutu-Seavers, spoke movingly of the black struggle in their homeland. Before the evening was over it seemed that no cause dear to liberal hearts had been left unmentioned.

Cesar Chavez spoke of the travails of his United Farm Workers; Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) of the antiwar movement in which, as a Vietnam war hero, he had later served; Steinem of the equal rights amendment; and antinuclear activist Randall Forsberg of "the deep link between human rights and peace issues."

And then there were the other entertainers -- Odetta, a stirring folk voice since she began appearing in coffeehouses in the early 1950s; Judy Collins, who led the audience in "Amazing Grace";John Denver, who sang a ballad juxtaposing an American farmer and a Soviet survivor of the siege of Leningrad.

When he started college in 1961, Denver recalled, the music of Peter, Paul & Mary was "echoing down the hallways."

Randall Robinson, the executive director of TransAfrica Forum, said, "To Peter, Paul & Mary, we thank you for your art . . . for the splendid example of your lives . . . for helping to raise the issue of South Africa in America."

Then the honored singers came up on stage to speak, receive their awards, later to sing.

Said Peter Yarrow: "In the songs themselves, we learned the language of hope . . . And together, friends, we have won a few. Every time we sing a song, we win."

Noel Paul Stookey: "Oh gee, how great! I look out there and I see some great faces! . . . I pray that we all continue to recognize the need for the lead of love in all our hearts."

Mary Travers said that when she was 15 years old she came to Washington to picket against the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for treason.

There on the picket line, she told the audience, "I learned . . . not to be defeated by defeat."

Later at a party for sponsors, entertainers and others at the Watergate Hotel, Mary Travers said, "Now that we got rid of Marcos, let's get rid of the president of South Korea."