Workaday Washington held its breath for a few endless minutes today and then exhaled, as strong currents of race and class, power and privilege swirled across a region grappling with old passions and new emotions stirred by the O.J. Simpson verdict.

In the hours after the news broadcast from a continent away, the nation's capital reflected much of America's take on the trial, breaking often along lines of race. But although the region is no stranger to racial polarization, having come together and broken apart around such figures as Marion Barry, voices were raised today to debate issues other than race alone.

There was, finally, a sense of relief, of a journey coming to an end.

In Fairfax, Desma Kelly sat tensely in her office, arms and legs crossed and palms sweating, and thanked God when the verdict was announced.

"I'm happy," said Kelly, 27, a human resources consultant, who is black. "I never thought he was guilty to begin with. I don't know if it was a conspiracy or if they just got the wrong man."

But Vanessa Allen, one of Kelly's colleagues, who is white, shook her head. "I wouldn't have been a good juror. I still think he's guilty," said Allen, 33, who lives in Montgomery County. "I'm really surprised."

At Howard University Law School in Northwest Washington, students crossed their fingers, held hands, and when the clerk read the verdicts, the room erupted with a chorus of cheers. Many cried and hugged.

"I love it. I love it," said Alita Shirland, 23, a first-year law student from Long Island, N.Y., who is black. "The jury followed the charges. You can't find someone guilty unless there is no reasonable doubt."

At the University of Maryland in College Park, about 120 students packed the Stamp Student Union, watching an overhead-projection television set. When the verdict came, about half the crowd -- mostly minorities -- leaped to their feet to cheer and applaud, some hugging. Other students, mostly white, sat quietly.

"I thought he was guilty . . . {but} I didn't want to see him go to jail for the rest of his life," said Michele Henley, 21, a junior pre-med major from Laurel, who is black.

Meanwhile, at a packed Brady's restaurant in Manassas, there was an audible expression of disgust among the mostly white customers.

But not everyone was displeased. Two black women, Linda Brooks, 44, and Joyce Kenner, 31, both expressed glee at the verdict. They said they were convinced all along that Simpson was innocent.

"I'm just speechless," Brooks said. "I feel relieved. I think justice was done. There was never any evidence."

The Rev. D. Lee Owens, pastor of Greater Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Chapel Oaks, Md., was jubilant.

"I certainly believe there was reasonable doubt as to his guilt," Owens said. "And I hope and pray that we at this time will be able to resume life. Either way the verdict would have gone, I believe in the system."

Women at a Bethesda shelter for abused persons appeared shocked by the verdict.

Parmenia Garcia, 29, a program coordinator at the shelter, said she was worried the verdict would set a bad example. "We see so many people that could have been killed," Garcia said. "Now, a lot of people will believe that you can get away with it."

However, three women who had recently escaped violent boyfriends and husbands said they did not identify with Nicole Brown Simpson and were glad Simpson had been acquitted, because they believe he was innocent.

"She seemed like a big tease," said Angela, 28, who left home after her boyfriend threatened to kill her. "My opinion is, if you don't want to deal with it, you get away from it. Otherwise, you're tempting fate."

At the law firm of Joseph Greenwald & Laake in Greenbelt, 16 partners, associates and others filled a conference room to await the verdict. "And the Oscar goes to . . . " joked Scott Reinhart.

The levity quickly turned to shock. "I just can't believe it," associate Steve Vinick said. "The evidence was overwhelming. I think a lot of people are going to lose faith in the system."

At Preston's Barbershop on Georgia Avenue NW, men traded high-fives and screamed, "Yes! Yes!"

Jason Lewis, 27, a barber, exclaimed, "He's out of there. That's one brother who didn't bite the dust."

Jake Roach, 41, of Takoma Park, said, "I feel great. . . . I raised black boys to be prepared for the Mark Fuhrmans of the world. I am happy. They just didn't have enough hard data. Justice usually means Just for white people. There were two white people killed. Usually, if a black person is involved, he's going down. Everybody was lifted up. I'm just so happy. "We take so many hits, black men. We take it every day. Another blow like that would have hurt us more." Also contributing to coverage of the Washington area's reaction to today's verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial were staff writers Amy Argetsinger, Steve Bates, Anna Borgman, Bill Broadway, DeNeen L. Brown, Peter Finn, Michael A. Fletcher, Hamil R. Harris, Toni Locy, Bill Miller, Eugene L. Meyer, Robert O'Harrow Jr., Ann O'Hanlon, David Montgomery, Philip P. Pan, Michael D. Shear, Valerie Strauss, Marylou Tousignant, and Yolanda Woodlee. T his is an extra edition of Tuesday's Washington Post. Only the stories about the Simpson verdict have been updated from earlier editions of the paper. Wednesday's Post will contain extensive coverage of the verdict, including a special section of stories and photos from the 10 Post writers and photographers now in Los Angeles. Digital Ink, The Post's on-line service, will carry late news on the verdict throughout today and tonight.