The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is started in San Francisco by Cleve Jones, Mike Smith, and volunteers Joseph Durant, Jack Caster, Gert McMullin, Ron Cordova, Larkin Mayo and Gary Yuschalk.
It was conceived by Cleve Jones during a candlelight march in remembrance of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
At that time many people who died of AIDS-related causes did not receive funerals, due to both the social stigma of AIDS felt by surviving family members and the outright refusal by many funeral homes and cemeteries to handle the deceased’s remains. Lacking a memorial service or grave site, The Quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to remember and celebrate their loved ones’ lives.
The first showing of The Quilt was 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Quilt was last displayed in full on the Mall in Washington in 1996, but it returned in July 2012 to coincide with the start of the XIX International AIDS Conference.
In 1997, the NAMES Project headquarters moved from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and in 2001 the quilt panels were moved from San Francisco to Atlanta where the NAMES Project Foundation is now headquartered. With 21 chapters in the U.S. and more than 40 affiliate organizations world wide. The AIDS Memorial Quilt continues to grow, currently consisting of more than 48,000 individual memorial panels (over 94,000 people) and weighing an estimated 54 tons. The Quilt is currently the largest piece of community folk art in the world.