Judge Harry T. Alexander: A Superstar In The Game Called Life

By Harold K. Bell

Judge Harry T. Alexander

“Here Comes the Judge” was a familiar cry in my community programs in the Nation’s Capitol.  My work with at-risk children made me a frequent visitor to the DC Superior Court.

Most people in the community and the media remember my program Kids In Trouble, Inc. as being associated with professional athletes (NFL, NBA & MLB) and rightfully so.

NBA Hall of Fame player and native Washingtonian and now Mayor of Detroit Dave Bing was the first to join the Kids In Trouble team in 1967.  NFL Hall of Fame player and native Washingtonian Willie Wood would join the team in 1968.

Many have forgotten that the backbone of the program were the judges of the DC Superior Court led by Luke C. Moore, Harry T. Alexander and Ted Newman.  Judges, Henry Kennedy, Jr., Eugene Hamilton, Alex Williams and Paul Webber would follow their lead later.  Pro athletes and sitting judges working together to empower the community was unheard in the 70s and 80s.

The “Dream Team” community involvement of DC Superior Court Judges gave hundreds of “at risk” children an opportunity to grow up to be healthy, wealthy and wise.

Judge Harry T. Alexander retired Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia and one of those team players died on July 8, 2010.  He died in his adopted hometown of Washington, DC.  He was 85 years old.

Make no mistake Harry T set the bar when it came to making sure attorneys and police officers respected everyone in his courtroom.  All defendants were to be addressed as Mr., Mrs. , Ms., or Miss.  It did not matter your station in life!

H. R. Crawford was a friend and former Assistant Director of Housing at HUD and long time DC City Councilman.  He recalls a case being thrown out of the judge’s court.

He says, “The arresting police officer kept referring to the black defendants as boys and girls.  He refused to address the defendants as Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss as instructed.  Judge Alexander dismissed the case because of mistaken identity.  He told the police officer, I don’t see any girls or boys in my courtroom.”

Judges Moore and Newman followed Judge Alexander’s lead but without the flamboyance or fanfare.  Judge Alexander had an air about him that the insecure found difficult to deal with.  He walked with a swagger, his head up and back un-bended.

Judge Alexander was born and raised in New Orleans and he never forgot who he was and where he came from or the taught lessons of racism before and after his military service.

From 1943 to 1946 he served his country during World War ll in the United States Navy.  As an honor graduate of the U. S. Navy Hospital Corps School, Judge Alexander was assigned to the Fleet Marine Force where he treated wounded soldiers on Red Beach during the battle of Iwo Jima.

He saved the life of a fellow serviceman who had both legs severed below the knees.

His life saving efforts would carry over to the Brooklyn Navy Hospital where he provided medical care to sailors who were victims of first and second degree burns on the USS Missouri during an explosion at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Although Judge Alexander’s first professional interest was medicine, he ultimately turned to the law.  In 1949 he enrolled at the Georgetown Law School.  The only black man in his class, the judge earned a position on the Law Journal Staff and the Book Review Editorial Board through academic achievement.

He published four articles in two years, two on separate but equal doctrine in which he urged the Supreme Court reversal of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1952, the same year he received his Juris Doctorate Degree.

In 1953, he was hired as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Municipal Court Division and became the first Black in the Appellate Division.  He would later move into the Criminal Trial Division, where he assisted in the prosecution of Jimmy Hoffa.

In 1961, he accepted an offer from Assistant Attorney General Herbert Miller and became a Special Assistant to Robert F. Kennedy in the organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Department of Justice.

Harry T was a fierce but fair prosecutor, handling federal government cases brought against the mafia and labor unions.  In 1966, he was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as an Associate Judge in the General Sessions Court.  He was just 43 years old making him the youngest Black judge at that time.

Justice in most American courts still seems to lean in the direction of Just-Us when it comes to minorities.  Most of the good lawyers/jurist I know are dead, Thurgood Marshall, Johnnie Cochran, Luke C. Moore, Harry T. Alexander, Kenneth Munday, Warren Copeland and Charlie Schultz. Mr. Schultz drowned in a swimming accident in Florida several years ago trying to save a child.

Despite Barack Obama’s new residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue racism is alive and well in America.  The American Court system is still one of racism’s main thoroughfares.  Black men are being jailed in record numbers.

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson commissioned a panel to study racism in America.  The panel’s conclusion, “The country was headed in the direction of  two Americas, one Black and one White.”

In 2010 the Republicans and Democrats have made that prediction a reality!

In 1970, I found the first ever half-way house established for juvenile delinquents on a military installation on Bolling Air Force Base in DC.  Chief Judge Harold Green and Judges Harry T. Alexander and Luke C. Moore were in attendance to cut the ribbon for this historical moment.

One of the most impressive things to me about the judges was that when they gave you their word you could carry it to the bank.

Judges Moore, Alexander and Newman community involvement attracted other judges to the community.

For example; U. S. Federal Court Judge Alex Williams is another benefactor of Inside Sports and Kids In Trouble, Inc.  I attended school and grew up in NE DC with Judge William Missouri the Chief Administrate Judge of the Upper Marlboro Courthouse.

The two have served as panelist for several of my conferences on youth Violence.  Judge Williams was a recipient of Kids In Trouble Life Time Achievement Award.  Williams’ mentor was Judge Moore and Missouri worked at the U. S. Post office with him but the similarities end there.

Today a Black man or woman who has to face a judge in Prince George’s County or in the DC Superior Court has the deck stacked against them.  Every deck has a joker in a Black Robe.

Black faces may be out front in the Upper Marlboro Court but there is a smell that the KKK aka “Tea Party” is still running things.

How can we forget that the person or persons who murdered Ronnie White is still working as a law enforcement officer and that murder happen on State Attorney’s Glen Ivey’s watch?

The Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin High retired during the murder investigation and has re-surfaced as a candidate for the Prince Georges’ County Sheriff’s Office.  Something is wrong with this picture!

One of the reasons Justice has become Just-Us in America’s courtrooms is because the Black jurist sitting on the bench have forgotten who they are and where they came from.  They are so busy trying to play fair but fail to realize they are the only ones playing fair!

They have forgotten the sacrifices and great works of Judges Thurgood Marshall, Carl Moutrie, Turk Thompson, Harry T. Alexander, each man stood for something and didn’t fall for just anything.

This is a sad commentary but Black Judges like Alex Williams, Bill Missouri, Eugene Hamilton, Henry Kennedy Jr., Paul Webber and every black judge who sits on the bench at DC Superior and Prince Georges County Courts all stand on the shoulders of Judge Harry T. Alexander.

They were nowhere to be found for his home going services.  How soon they have forgotten.

Retired Judge Ted Newman (judicial warrior), DC Superior Court Judges Herbert Dixon, Erik P. Christian, and Zenora Rankin, and City Councilmen Michael Brown, Harry Thomas, Chairman and Mayoral candidate Vincent Gray, City Councilwoman Mary M. Chen and former Councilman Crawford all paid their respects.

Former Mayor Marion Barry and hopefully lame duck Mayor Adrian Fenty were no-shows.

Where were the Blacks in media, names like Jim Vance, Bruce Johnson, Maureen Bunyan, J. C. Haywood, Kojo Nami, Courtland Milloy?

I am surprised at Washingtonian Colby King who was a eye witness to the great contributions of Harry T.   We wonder why our children don’t know our history and why we are losing it.

The real media crime the black weekly community newspapers, the Afro-American and Informer failed to mention his passing.  There were death notices in both papers of actress Vonetta McGee.

There were favorite stories and memories of Judge Alexander told by friends Kenneth Brown, Al-Malik Farrakhan (Cease Fire dstb), Butch McAdams, Steve “Foots” Bolton, Keith Wade, Russell Price Jr., Michael Williams (Law Clerk), Rev. Edward l. Baldwin Jr., Jimmy Jones, Sly Barnes and Mark Downs.

DC Photographer extraordinary Don Baker tells the unforgettable story of Judge Alexander hanging out at the Foxtrappe Club one evening.

According to Don, there was this one patron trying to be a little too familiar.  He greeted the Judge with “Hey Harry T.”

The Judge not only demanded respect for others in his courtroom but he demanded that same respect for himself in public.

Who was this individual who knew him well enough to call him out of his name?

The Judge didn’t recognize the greeter and asked him, “Did we grow up together, attend the same school, are you a frat brother or have you had dinner at my house?  Sir, until we do I am Judge Harry T. Alexander to you!”

The greeter who was well over six-foot tall stood only two-feet tall when the Judge finished dressing him down.  He quietly disappeared into the crowded room.

I remember feeling his wrath for doing that exact same thing at the Shoreham Hotel.  The occasion, Kids In Trouble, Inc. was honoring the Ohio State football team who had just won the Rose Bowl.

The team had several outstanding athletes from DC who played significant roles in that Rose Bowl win.  They were QB Cornelius Green and running back Woodrow Roach.

The guest included legendary coach Woody Haynes and two time Heisman Trophy winner, running back Archie Griffin.

NBC WRC TV 4 anchorman Jim Vance and I were the Masters of Ceremony for the event.  The head table included Judge Alexander, Dave Bing (NBA), actor Robert Hooks, Congressman Walter Faultroy and the guest of honor.

Jim and I divided the introductions among the head table guest and I ended up with Coach Woody Hayes and Judge Harry T. Alexander to introduce.

I introduced Coach Woody Haynes first and talked about his legendary career and how he had made the Nation’s Capitol a recruiting bonanza for the Ohio State football program.

I next introduced Judge Harry T. Alexander and gave him his props as being a part of a unique team of DC Superior Court Judges. I pointed out the great things he was doing in our community and making a difference in his courtroom.

My mistake, I introduced the judge as “Harry T. Alexander” with the title judge as the trailer!  I had no idea he was pissed off at the oversight made by me until later.

There was an intermission break for the fashion show and the head table guest headed for the lobby.  It was here the Judge gave me the blues for introducing and addressing Coach Woody Haynes as “Coach Haynes and him as Harry T.”

We didn’t speak for about ten years and when we saw each other we were like passing ships in the night.

I remember it was one hot August day and I stopped for gas at Pennsylvania and Minnesota Avenues NE.  There was retired Judge Harry T. Alexander pumping gas he looked up and saw me and without hesitation he said “Well hello Mr. Bell.”

I was so elated I said “How are you doing your Honor” and went over and shook his hand.  I will never forget that moment it was like a piano had been lifted off of my back.  It also told me a lot about Judge Harry T. Alexander, he was a man’s man.

Respect was the benchmark every time you entered Judge Alexander’s courtroom or his space.  The respect that he brought to America’s courtrooms has become a lost art.

He was known as “The People’s Judge” for good reason, after court hours he could be found out in the community giving back.

He was a fixture at Kids In Trouble’s Christmas toy parties for elementary children, celebrity fashions shows and tennis tournaments, etc.

Shortly after hearing of the Judges’ death I encountered former Washington Redskin players, Roy Jefferson, Larry Brown, Ted Vactor, Pat Fisher and Ron McDole at the Langston Golf Course.

They had gathered there to play in a charity golf tournament for the Girls and Boys Clubs of Washington, DC.

When I told Roy of the judge’s death, he had fond memories, he said, “We were all joined at the hip back in the day when it came to the community and kids.”

I will never forget the community parades.  The ones from Martin Luther King Avenue SE to Georgia Avenue NW and “Here Come the Judge” riding his horse or driving a vintage classic automobile to the delight of the crowd.

Judge Alexander believed that physical fitness was important and therefore he stayed physically active.  He loved to ride horses and was an avid golfer.  He entered and competed in the Senior Olympics and won several medals for track and field.

He could talk sports and he did on “Inside Sports” several times during my sports talk show career.  He was a fixture at Redskin games at RFK Stadium.

He could also be the life of the party or the party.  He was without a doubt the best dressed judge at DC Superior Court and probably the best dancer.  He loved during “The Hustle” and other dance steps at his favorite hang-out, the Foxtrappe.

H. R. Crawford remembers him as the President of the NAACP and how he became inpatient because the organization was not making their presence felt.

The new NAACP CEO Ben Todd Jealous is his type of man.  Mr. Jealous is the new Sheriff in town and it looks and sounds like it won’t be business as usual.

Shakespeare once said “Kill all the lawyers” Judge Harry T. Alexander was a keeper!


17 Responses to “Judge Harry T. Alexander: A Superstar In The Game Called Life”

  1. Mr. Bell, you had me all the way up until you equated the Tea Party with the KKK. You are Oh, so wrong.

  2. Gon baker Says:

    I met Judge Alexander on the Foxtrappe dance floor in 1976 as he was trying to teach a young lady how to do Van McCoy’s dance craze, “The Hustle”. I gave him a few pointers and we became fast friends. I did not know that he was a D.C. Superior Court Judge until I was told by a patron later that evening. The beauty of the Foxtrappe experience was that a kid from southeast D.C. was able to meet and interact with the City’s best and brightest in a social atmosphere filled with Black people from all walks of life coast to coast. The Judge soon found out that I was a photographer and had a twin brother who was a photographer as well and asked us to photograph him on numerous occasions. I realize that everyone may not have been a fan of the Judge, but he showed a regular guy like me that my station in life wasn’t important. It is the respect that I earn and demand for my professionalism and contributions to my family and community. I never forgot that and I can truly say that my work as a professional photographer is respected all over the world that I travel.

  3. Harold, you know I like “Our” story and this is truly a wonderful piece of “Our” story. Judge Harry T. was himself at all times. He always gave and demanded respect. He and Judge Moore saved me a lot of rent money and fines. Without them I would be a totally different person today. They provided me with insights, time, and space to get myself together without being hassled by my Landlord. As long as brothers like you exist in the world there will be young brothers and sisters to step up and take the baton of life, where word is bond, and pass it on. Stay strong and keep the faith.

  4. Tom, thanks for remembering Judge Alexander when blacks in media and their bosses tried to forget!

    “Until the lions have their own historians the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.”

  5. Raymond Kemp Says:

    Harold and others,
    It was my privilege to meet the Judge on being released from jail during the civil rights movement and to have him tell me I was initiated into the struggle. He gave his life to the law, and this city of DC and the court system are the better for his work.
    And the work goes on. Now. Lets get to it!

  6. Harold,

    I want to commend and salute you for doing an exceptional job in writing about Judge Harry T. Alexander. Harold, you exemplified the true spirit of an individual that never neglected or totally alienated his community. With great gratitude, I’m proud that we shared the same navy’s profession, as Hospital Corpsman, an honorable and prestigious profession within the structures of the navy. Judge Alexander ameliorated his profession in law with passion, honor, compassion and an unwavering spirit for respect with an indefatigable devotion for justice.

  7. Gilbert L. Hoffman Says:

    Thanks to you Mr. Bell, I have learned so much more about Judge Alexander. Quite a person and role model, especially for our African American youth!

  8. Mr. Lowell K. Duckett Says:

    Thanks: Harold for highlighting Judge Alexander. This was a story worth reading. I’m a retired Lieutenant MPDC.

  9. Kay Etheredge Says:

    Thanks for that interesting piece. I didn’t know him personally. However, I remember seeing that dapper brother cruising through the city in that Rolls-Royce. He had a lot of swag and was the coolest Judge I ever seen. He was pretty smooth on the dance floor too. He will be missed.

  10. I had the pleasure of knowing Judge Harry T. Alexander. After he retired, he became my attorney. I hired him because he was a smart man and I knew he would win my case. Many people didn’t understand his personality because he had “his own way” of demanding respect regardless of race, creed, or color. Judge Alexander insisted that if you have a backbone, “stand up and be counted” for your civil rights. He was a great dresser, Foxtrappe dancer and loved his crocodile boots. He gave it is all and he will be missed.

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