AIDS Memorial Quilt permanently returns to Bay Area

In a nondescript warehouse in San Leandro, not far from the Oakland Airport, perhaps the most iconic symbol of the heartbreaking AIDS crisis is returning home to the Bay Area— the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

“We lost our friends and they died. And we made new friends and they died. And new friends again and they died," said Cleve Jones, who helped create the quilt.

Jones helped launch the quilt in 1987 as a personal way to depict how AIDS devastated the gay community. 

The quilt has names of the dead stitched together, one after another. It was famously displayed along the National Mall in Washington D.C. 

There are now 48,000 panels in the quilt.

"The point of the whole thing was to make sure these people and their lives were remembered," said Jones.

The AIDS Quilt had been stored in Atlanta for the past 20 years, until the National AIDS Memorial was able to return it to the Bay Area this month.

Now that its back, it is set to go on display in big fashion.

About 1,900 panels will be laid out on Robin Williams Meadow and the AIDS Grove in Golden Gate Park on April 3rd through the 5th, as part of the park's 150th anniversary celebration.

The names of the people on the panel will be read. It will be the largest quilt display ever in San Francisco.

The quilt has come to symbolize the horrific death toll AIDS has brought, and continues to bring, but also the slow response of the U.S. government in the early years of the crisis. 

"It preserves the memories, but equally important it preserves the struggle and what we had to go through because these lives were not valued," said Jones. "It is important that our citizens know what it means to be a citizen of this nation, to look after each other, and what it means to stand up to injustice. The quilt did that," said John Cunningham, executive director of the National AIDS Memorial. 

The quilt now memorializes 105,000 names and counting. It will go back into storage following its display in Golden Gate Park. 

"I wanted to show that behind every one of those numbers on the charts were actual human beings with families loved ones. Neighbors and co-workers who cared about them deeply. It did its job," said Jones.