Harry Alexander wears tapered, three-piece suits from Garfinckel's. His shoes are suede or patent leather. His hat is felt - Empire State Fashions - both ends peeled down, Sherlock Holmes style. Around his neck are two symbolic necklaces - one a gold slave identification tag that reads "sold," the other two clasped hands. On his fingers are three gold rings.
With his head held high, his walk is brisk and deliberate. "It is not sissy or timid," Alexander says of his stride. "Neither is my air." Like the weather, he can be hot, cool or cold.
Harry Toussaint Alexander. Judge Alexander. Crazy Harry. Harry the T. How you refer to him depends on your point of view.
He prefers Judge Alexander. "A judge keeps his title," he says impassionately, "until someone takes it away or until he dies."
Alexander was a controversial judge during his 10 years on the D.C. Superior Court bench. He infuriated prosecutors, police and witness by embarrassing them in court if they failed to refer to a black person as Mr., Mrs. or Miss. Black youths were to be called "master" rather than "boy." Police were upbraided for lounging in the jury box during nonjury trials. Ill-prepared lawyers were threatened with contempt of court citations. Spectators showing less than total respect for Judge Alexander also were dealt with sternly.
The city's Judical Tenure Commission publicly censured Alexander for some of his actions in court and apparently was on the verge of forcing him off bench when Alexander himself decided not to seek another term. Alexander says he had concluded "that I am not the kind of person to adhere to "judical conduct.'"
Now, Alexander returns to Superior Court daily as defense lawyer for Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, leader of the group of Hanafi Muslims accused of kidnapping and murder in connection with the takeover of three downtown buildings here in March. He has brought back with him the outspoken, flamboyant style he displayed as a jduge, and it has led to clashes with the judge in this case and a citation for contempt.
That same style has won a strong following for Alexander among many black residents of Washington, making him a folk hero, something of a latter day Adam Clayton Powell. He moves through the streets smartly dressed, driving a red Cadillac Eldorado. He is being boosted by some citizens as a future candidate for the City Council or even mayor.
When he enters the Foxtrappe Club, a popular gathering place for black professionals just off 16th Street NW downtown, long lines form as admirers maneuver for a kiss or a handshake from Alexander. "Just look at him," said Denise Hamlet, 24, one recent night at the Foxtrappe. "He's out dancing and mingling with the public. He's a strong man. D.C. needs more men like him."
Yet, his image among what he calls "Washington's establishment set" sank to an all time low - and may have hastened an end to his judgeship when he sismissed weapons charges against a 16-year-old because prosecutors had not referred to a witness as "Miss" or "Mrs."
It is still Alexander's contention that those who made the biggest fuss knew all along that the youth had other charges pending against him, and, ultimately, would be allowed to go free.
"The objection were from people who liked the old way of doing things," Alexander said. "They wanted to keep calling blacks 'colored' or by their first names." Alexander believes he has been victimized by the proponents of racism in Washington.
Many blacks agree. Among them, his prestige has never been higher. But his style still irritates others.
During one of numerous confrontations between Alexander and Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio during the Hanafi trial. Nunzio told another defense attorney in the case, Stephen O'Brien. "Young man, please sit down."
"You may not call him 'young man.' Alexander told Judge Nunzio. "You must call him "mister."
"I suggest that you approach the decorum you demended in you own courtroom and abide by the rules of the court," Nunzio told Alexander. "I will afford you a few minutes to relax, sir. You seem to be jumping up and down."
Even Alexander's client, the perhaps equally unpredictable Khaalis, has fired him - and hired him again. And people still want to know: Who is this man?
"I think he's a dynatmite guy," said Goldie Johnson, president of the Washington Police Wives Association and foe of those whom she beleives discriminate against black police officers. "The system will never break a man like him. Too bad there aren't more men like Harry the T."
"What I have to say about him can't print," said R. P. Jones, a Washington policeman. "And you can print that."
"He's a strong black lawyer with a keen sense of justice," said D.C. City Councilman Douglas Moore.
"I don't want to be associated with him again," said one Washington lawyer. "I don't even want my name to appear in the same story with his."
"He doens't care what people say about him," said Mrs. Harry T. Alexander. "He thrives on the controversy. But he is somewhat of a loner. He doesn't bring his work home . . . doesn't want to burden us, althoughh we would like to hear some of what he has to say about all of this."
Soon after leaving court of the day. Alexander, 52, arrives at a crusty townhouse located at 6th and L Streets NW - his temporary office. Much too small for him, he said. "My business has grown trememdously. I'm already having to send some to legal aid," he said with a grin. "I was going broke as a judge. I needed to make some money."
More than 25 plageus and citations - mostly from local religious and civic groups - hang on his office wall. On almost every one appear the words "a dedicated advocate of civil rights."
"What many people don't know is that I blush, too." Alexander said, scanning the wall. "Some people don't think I have one scintilla of humility. But people don't try to get close enough. I don't think many people understand what I was really trying to do."
When Harry Toussaint Alexander applied to Loyola and Tulane Law Schools in New Orleans, having graduated in premedicine from Xavier University, he wrote on his admisions papers that he wanted to become a lawyer "to change the system." He was not admitted to either school.
"The civil rights concepts was not new to me," he said, "I had been mistreated all my life." He leaned forward over his small, clustered desk, folded his hands and arched his left eyebrow to begin a story that he recalls made him aware of what discrimination was.
"I was young, about 8, and in my father's shoe shop. And this old white man, about 65, who sold newspapers came in and placed his hand on my head - which was plentiful and curly at the time." (He is now bald on top.)
"Rib a nigga's head and git good luck," Alexander recalled the man telling him. "My father turned his show machinge off and asked the man to repeat it and the man did. My father turned to him and said. "Get the hell out of my shop.' Now here was an old white man, who had himself missed out on the milk and honey of American society, running around content because there was still a group of people he figured he was better than.
"I never got frustrated, but I developed an utter dislike for people mistreated. I felt poeple should pay for injustice. When I became a judge, I saw that as my opportunity to do something."
Some of his critics say they understood that something needed to be done about D.C. Court of General Sessions. And at first, they agreed with Alexander's efforts to make changes.
"It was common knowledge that many judges acted as a second prosecutor in the courtroom,' one lawyer said. "But I think Harry went too far. He bacame the second defense lawyer in court."
Police officier R.P Jones said Alexander developed a reputation among law enforcement officials as someone "obsessed with being the boss."
"He would embarrass you, berate you in front of everyone. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with policemen sitting in the jury box (during nonjury trails). But if he didn't like it, all he would have to say was would you please take a seat in the courtroom. But no, he would belittle you. Yell and point and read you the riot act for 10 minutes."
Alexander said he views himself as having been a fair judge - pressuring the system, he says, to stike a better balance than existed when he arrived there in 1965.
"People complained that I didn't have tact. What is tact? What good has tact wrought for the masses of blacks? Only when the system feels pressured does it release some of the people's rights.
"People threaten me: Resign or die. We got a bullet with your name on it," Alexander said. "But I got more love mail than hate mail."
Unable to find a suitable law school in Lousiana, Alexander said, he came to Washington. He was admitted to the Georgetown University Law School in 1949, the first year of racial intergration there. He graduated in 1952 and began private practice.
"I couldn't even get a job as a file clerk when I graduated," he said. "That was no accident. That was by design."
Alexander was 29 then, married, with two children.Two more would come, but one, a girl, 9 years old, would die in 1972 of a rare virus. It would be a stormy year of Judge Alexander.
Some say that was the year that Alexander was at his harshest on the not relaed to the death of his daughter. "I drew strength from her - and bench. If that were so, he said, it was still do as she is in Heaven.'
"It did affect him quite a bit." said his wife, Beatrice. "She made him feel like he was on top of a pedestal. He was a member of the Supreme Court to her."
"Looking back, there came a time when my effectiveness in making gains (as a judge) became seriously impaired," Alexander said. "I had done as much as I could. It seemed that it didn't need 10 years to do what I accomplished, but I am pleased with the changes that ded occur. I enjoyed most of it, but I felt I stayed too long."
Alexander is now president of the Washington chapter of the NAACP. "I'm trying to rebuild an organization," he said. "I could never do things like that as a judge.
This position is seen by some as just another stepping stone to Alexander's real aspiration - political office. Indeed, when he stood on the steps at the U.S. Supreme Court last month, and was threatened with arrest while reading NAACP resolutions to be sent to its national conference in St. Louis. Alexander sounded more like a politician than ever.
"We want full statchood for the District of Columbia," he said, to a resounding round of applause.
Asked about running for public office, he blushes. "If the people wish that, I will accept," he says.
For now, and for at least a months to come, he is up at 6 a.m., reading over his notes from the previous day's Hanafi trial session. He says he goes into court more often than not, "wondering where we left off the day before. I'm the first black man that any celebrated case has had for a lawyer," he said, almost to himself.
"I don't go in to needle the judge. Who would presume that I have the intention of doing that? I would like to regard myself as nne who knows what the art of advocacy is about and how it should be exercised. I should say that I think I'm rather effective, right? Huh.?"