by Davie Jones
At a meeting in San Francisco in June of 1987, a group of individuals set a goal to create a memorial for those who had died of AIDS and to help people understand the devastating impact of the disease. This meeting served as the foundation of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
As the project gained steam, people from around the world starting creating their own 3’X6’ quilt panels to honor a loved one that had died from AIDS. On October 11, 1987, the Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, DC during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Half a million people viewed the quilt during this event. I remember seeing it that weekend and how emotionally touched I was by the display.
The overwhelming response to the Quilt’s inaugural display led to a four-month, 20-city national tour in the spring of 1988. Dallas was the seventh stop on the tour.
The NAMES Project reached out to the Dallas Gay Alliance (DGA) to help put together the event that would occur on May 4th & 5th. I was serving as a DGA board member and volunteered to serve as the coordinator for the local event. At least I think I volunteered.
After the initial press release announcing the Quilt’s touring dates was released, the citizens of Dallas jumped on board to make sure that our stop on the tour would be a memorable event. The idea that locals could create their own panels and that these panels would be added to the rapidly growing memorial started a ground swell of interest in the project.
From the beginning, it was understood that such an event must be an all inclusive undertaking representing all facets of the Dallas LGBT community. The support was widespread from both social and political organizations, religious leaders and congregations, local media, retail establishments, universities and even Union Local 756.
Frank Caven and Dennis Weir of Caven Enterprises were most generous and offered a street presence on Cedar Springs where we were able to open the Dallas Sewing Center. This space provided a place where people could come and create their own panel for the Quilt. Donations of sewing machines, fabric and other accessories came pouring in. The center was staffed by volunteers most days and was always busy with people creating their own personal memorial panel for someone they loved.
We received several letters from parents who didn’t live locally, but whose son had lived in Dallas and had died of AIDS. I made a Quilt for “Larry” from Cincinnati. His mother had sent us the request to remember her son with a panel. Larry’s loves were antique cars and computers. I was very proud and honored when Larry’s Quilt was on display at the NAMES Project event.
One challenge was to decide on a venue. We needed the space to either be a good value rental, or better yet, the cost donated by the establishment. Suggestions ranged from the Dallas Convention Center to Market Hall. The early May dates proved to be a challenge. After looking at all available options, the NAMES Project committee back in SF decided on the Centennial Building at Fair Park. We now had a wonderful historic site to display the Quilt.
Next decision was to decide which organizations would receive the proceeds from the two day event. The donations were divided equally among the AIDS ARMS, AIDS Resource Center, Care Coalition, Northern Lights, Oak Lawn Counseling Center, PWA Coalition and the Visiting Nurses Association.
A week before the event, two NAMES Project volunteers flew to Dallas from SF and stayed with me. Scott and Alan were so excited about this stop on the tour. The tour was going well and the trucks with the quilt panels were on their way to Dallas. They were instrumental in getting the Centennial Building ready for the event. Large vertical frameworks were created to display the local panels. Close to 200 panels honoring our loved ones were on display.
There was a published list of every panel. “The panels you see hanging in the two entryways were created out of love by local area people commemorating a loved one who has died of AIDS. These panels, along with others collected during this event, will be sent to San Francisco where they will be sewn into larger squares.” Looking back over the names from the original brochure, I see those I remember: Howie Daire, Phil Gerber, Joe Philpot, Richard Rogers, Mike Sobieski, Terry Tebedo, Dick Young… and many I did not know.
A committee was put together to do the honor of unfolding each quilt. Volunteers were dressed in all white. Each wore a white painters cap. The unfolding was very solemn and reverent. The volunteers would pick up the initial bundle and then start to unfold each layer outward. Once the quilt was totally unfolded, the volunteers would start a clockwise movement that created a full circle before finally placing the quilt on the floor.
After all of the quilts were unfolded, the public was allowed to walk among the fabric memorial. After the second night, the quilts and panels were all respectfully packed into boxes and loaded on trucks for the next stop of the tour, Houston.
As with most volunteer events, there is always a core group of people who start strong and finish stronger. I would like to recognize those individuals who were the driving force between the NAMES Project/Dallas event in May of 1988: Steve Carter, Carlos Castillo, Dennis Darcy, Tom Davis, Tom Emanuele, Mary Franklin, Tim Halsey, Stephen Harvey, Stephanie Held, Maury Held, Kevin Hoover, Phil Johnson, Bobby Kirkendoll, Buck Massey, Dan Perry, Jim Ponder, John Thomas and Dean Willis.