A coalition of church, civic, labor and school representatives announced plans yesterday for a program of food distribution, education and prayer in response to calls for a possible Ku Klux Klan march in Washington Nov. 6.
"I don't look at the Klan as a small group of crackpots," said the Rev. Edward A. Hailes, president of the District of Columbia branch of the NAACP and one of the group. He said the coalition's activities were designed to provide constructive alternatives to possibly violent counterdemonstrations.
Hailes and other coalition members acknowledged that they had no knowledge of the numerical strength of the Klan, and realized the Klan had not yet even applied for a parade permit and might, in fact, never show up.
"We're more concerned with their philosophy than with their actual physical presence in the District of Columbia," said the Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, executive director of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington. "The Klan has provided us with the opportunity to address the greater needs of our society . . . . This program will take place whether the march takes place or not."
Gibson said the program would consist of the collection and donation of food to needy District families between Oct. 22 and Nov. 6; educational programs about the Klan in the churches and schools of metropolitan Washington Oct. 29 to Nov. 5, and a "Service of Prayer and Justice" Nov. 6 at the National City Christian Church on Thomas Circle, cosponsored by the Council of Churches and the Interfaith Conference of the District of Columbia.
"It is our hope that these activities will reaffirm the spirit and resolve of people in our community toward human needs and common decency," Gibson said.
Last month four anti-Klan groups applied for demonstration permits covering at least 15 major sites in the city Nov. 6 and may have pre-empted territory eyed by the Klan for its planned parade and rally. A National Park Service spokesman said such permits are usually issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
An application for a parade permit had been sent on request to the national office of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Tuscumbia, Ala., the spokesman said, but no reply has been received. No permit has been issued so far to any of the anti-Klan groups, he added.