During Black History Month, the National AIDS Memorial launched a special exhibition honoring Black lives lost to AIDS with this specially curated selection of 56 blocks of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The exhibition uses the beauty and power of the Quilt to bring to light stories of the countless men, women and children who have died and the impact AIDS has had on the Black community.
In the 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported, Black Americans and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by AIDS. By 1993, HIV was the leading cause of death for Black men between ages 25-44 and by 2004, HIV became the leading cause of death for Black women in the same age group.
In 2013, as part of ongoing awareness and educational efforts, a special Quilt program, Call My Name, was created to draw attention to HIV/AIDS in the Black community and the public health crisis that still exists today. Its purpose is to foster the creation of new panels for the AIDS Quilt made by Black Americans in honor of their friends and family who have died of AIDS. Now part of the National AIDS Memorial Quilt programs, Call My Name aims to create and display greater numbers of panels that reflect the epidemic's impact within the Black community and the effect stigma and prejudice have on increased infection rates.
Today, Black Americans still account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses and people living with HIV, compared to other races and ethnicities. In 2018, Black Americans made up 42% of the nearly 38,000 new HIV diagnoses in the U.S., with half of those living in southern states. The Quilt is a powerful tool to reach these communities through the stories of resilience, healing, hope and remembrance that each panel represents.
Through this virtual exhibition, part of the National AIDS Memorial’s ongoing 50-state virtual Quilt exhibition launched on World AIDS Day 2020, we honor the Black lives lost to AIDS and hope it helps raise greater awareness about the ongoing struggle with HIV among Black Americans. This Black History Month exhibition coincides with National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7, 2021.
Partners for this exhibition include the Black AIDS Institute, Gilead Sciences and Vivent Health. Special thanks to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress for providing Quilt archive materials for some of the displays. See CDC data on HIV and African American People.
Also visit our special collection of inspiring Black voices in the LGBTQ Movement as part of Storytelling programs.
Display 3: The Quilt blocks featured in this display are part of the National AIDS Memorial’s Call My Name program. It includes eight sections of the Quilt with more than 150 names of Black lives lost to AIDS with notes of love and stitched memories from loved ones to ensure they are never forgotten. Call My Name is a program designed to draw attention to the ongoing public health crisis by fostering the creation of new Quilt panels made by Black Americans in honor of their friends, family, and community members who have died of AIDS. The creation of the AIDS Quilt more than 30 years ago helped redefine the tradition of quilt making in response to contemporary circumstances. Call My Name uses this model and through hands-on, panel-making activity brings people and communities together to remember loved ones, grieve, find support and strength, and engage in dialogues for change. Since the program began in 2003, Quilt-making workshops and displays have been organized in Black communities across the country, bringing together women and men from different generations, as they commune together and transform from a group of strangers into an intimate community. Their commitment to honoring and remembering Black lives lost to AIDS, ensures their stories are always remembered, and become part of the National AIDS Memorial programs to use the Quilt as a powerful tool for prevention, education, awareness and social justice. Among the names on Block 5767 is Carolyn Jenkins Peneda, who wrote the book “Preaching with AIDS” and tells the story of her hard, but victorious life, and is a powerful testimony filled with hope and inspiration. Block 5788 includes a panel with the name of Wandra Jones-Phillips, made by her hairdresser, Kimberly Jackson, who kept Wandra’s secret of being HIV-positive for 10 years, until her death. According to a 2006 Newsday article, she wanted to honor Wandra, a neonatologist in Atlanta, who “had a life of accomplishment” noting that her friend loved to ski and watch ballet, “I wanted to honor that.” Block 5808 honors Granville Gadsden whose love for music is shown with photos from throughout his life with notes of love from friends and family. Block 5788 also includes the names of three Black men -- George Macklin, Eric Jordan and James Loston -- whose stories are shared in touching letters written by loved ones that accompanied their Quilt panels. Block 5975 includes a panel honoring Sean Sasser, an AIDS activist who appeared on MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco, which openly shared his relationship with Pedro Zamora, helping open hearts and minds to LGBT issues and those living with HIV/AIDS. Block 5976 contains three panels honoring Joe Pifath, Peter Johnson and Ted Carlton and include the military uniforms they wore serving their country. There is also a panel for LeRoy Whitfield, a black journalist who died in 2005 at the age of 36, who wrote about the effect of AIDS on America’s Black community. Block 5989 is a tribute to Chakena “CC” Conway/David Isaiah Joseph, a poet, health motivator, advocate, activist and youth representative. CC was the youngest founding member of Positive Women’s Network, which shared stories of CC with a Quilt panel and a touching tribute.
Display 4: This display honors Black celebrities – musicians, artists, designers, journalists – who we lost to AIDS, and, through their work, their names and connection to people, brought attention and awareness to the AIDS pandemic. Block 0013 features a panel honoring Willi Smith, a revered fashion designer who invented streetwear who died of AIDS-related complications in 1987. Willi’s panel brings to the forefront his passion for design, using fabric, buttons and zippers to celebrate his legacy. W Magazine chronicles his life and impact in a 2020 article, How Will Designer Willi Smith Be Remembered. Block 1092 includes a panel in memory of Max Robinson, a legendary news journalist who was the first Black person to co-anchor a national broadcast at ABC in the late 1970’s. The Los Angeles Times shared his story in a 1988 article, Max Robinson’s Silent Struggle With AIDS. Block 2775 features the iconic Sylvester James, described in a touching tribute, as an androgynous, cross-dressing, openly gay, Black American, falsetto-singing, unapologetically flaming man-diva influenced primarily by church women, Black blues singers, drag queens, hippies, and homosexuals. Block 2908 has a panel made for tennis great Arthur Ashe. The Atlanta Journal Constitution remembers Arthur Ashe in a 2017 article, Remembering Arthur Ashe’s HIV Announcement 25 Years Later. Block 5866 was created as part of “Call My Name” workshops led by actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph that honors iconic seven Black actors and entertainers -- Howard Rollins Jr., Tony Franklin, Larry Riley, Sharon Reed, Raymond St. Jacques and Gene Anthony Ray. Ray, known for his high energy dance and performances, was best known for his role in the hit musical “Fame”. Block 5888, also a “Call My Name” Quilt also honors Black entertainers and celebrities, including Max Robinson, the first Black anchor for a major news network, who died of AIDS. It features panels for Eazy-E, Franklyn Seales, and Kenny Greene with photos, record albums and memorabilia sewn into the fabric. Eazy-E, a major figure in “gangsta” wrap publicly announced he had AIDS in March 1995 and died two weeks later. In a statement to his fans Eazy-E said, “I’m not religious, but wrong or right, that’s me. I’m not saying this because I’m looking for a soft cushion wherever I’m heading. I just feel I’ve got thousands and thousands of young fans that have to learn about what’s real when it comes to AIDS.” Blocks 5905 and 5909 celebrate the lives of several poets, authors, activists and entertainers including Essex Hemphill, Gil Scott-Heron, Marlon Riggs, Michael Morocco, Fela Kuti, Kenneth R. Robinson, Thembi Ngubane, Jim Hyde, Chris Noel Reed, Lemar Porterfield, Leon Brown and Jermaine Stewart. Stewart, a R&B artist was best known for his 1986 hit single “We Don’t Have to Take our Clothes Off” and one of the first gay artists to break out of the clubs and crossover into mainstream.
Display 5: This display features several Quilt blocks that were made as part of the “Call My Name” program that organized quilt-making events in Black communities to remember loved ones lost to AIDS. Block 5442 was made by quiltmakers in New Jersey for those they lost to AIDS. The beautiful panels show Arnold Shaw’s love for fishing, how Venus Williams and Roland Goins were dedicated to music and dance, and Dennis Howarth, whose panel has the words empathy, acceptance, compassion, and endurance sewn onto it. Block 5570 has a panel for Maurio Spikes, whose mother Charlotte Spikes and sister Kescia Muhammad said about the panel they made, “He was funny and talented and unforgettable. He lived with an intensity not known to many, and he influenced everyone who knew him. He loved exotic birds and all things fine and beautiful. Thank you for the opportunity to share the life of Maurio Raphael Spike with the world through this remarkable project. Each stitch was made with love and a prayer that this panel will endure forever.” The life of AIDS activist Reggie Williams is also featured with a panel in his memory. According to a tribute, Reggie began organizing in San Francisco in the early 1980s to address the spread of AIDS in his community where he is quoted as saying, “My hope lies in the future. I don’t believe there will be a cure for me…but my hope is for finding a vaccine to prevent children of the future from getting HIV.” Block 5592 honors Black men whose passion for sports, music and community are sewn into each panel. One name is of George Gramby, who died in 1993. He was a local baseball hero whose motto was “new beginnings”. George spent the last decade of his life helping people overcome substance abuse, forming a program called “Beginnings”, which still operates today. For more than 25 years, the town of Morristown, New Jersey holds an annual George Gramby Day in his honor, renaming a park in his name. Block 5670 is filled with notes from friends and loved, memorabilia and photos honoring their lives. Bethel Angels, a one-month old baby, is remembered with notes of love of what could have been. Leroy Thomas Bass Jr and Dan Emory Bass, who both served in the U.S. military, now rest side by side forever on the Quilt. Blocks 5798, 5811 and 5986 include several panels from church quilt-making groups that include messages of hope from Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, one sewn with the powerful words “AIDS awareness definitely saves lives – get the facts”. “Love, Safety and Security”, “Love and Faith” and “What Shall I Do Lord” shine a light these lives. Several panels were made by Newbirth Church quiltmakers. Another panel has beautifully stitched flowers sewn into it with the words “Live, Love, Laugh” in honor of Tangela Green. Block 5207 is a block often requested for Quilt displays across the country with its beautiful red AIDS ribbons, including a panel honoring Tony Sanders, which shows Tony wrapped in a large AIDS Ribbon with notes from friends and loved ones. This note accompanied the panel. Tony died in 1995 and his memorial page shares messages from his sister honoring his life. Beside Tony is the panel for Steven Corum which reads, “I am the red ribbon you wear it for me."
Display 6: This display honors some of the Black children who lost their lives to AIDS at such a young age. Block 2173 honors Tony with a panel made by his mother out of California. He was only 11 when he died and his panel features images of his favorite play characters, Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. Block 2268 memorializes Douglas Ian Coleman, who lost his life to AIDS at the age of 8. His mother lovingly made his panel which includes a painting of “Dougie” in the center of the panel. It was made from a photo taken of “Dougie” sitting on musical artist Ice-T’s lap as part of a wish he had to meet him. A story from a local newspaper about the meeting, along with a special poem were sewn into the panel. Block 2933 honors a brother and sister out of the Bronx, Damein Cannon-Grant and Rasheen Parker-Grant. “Da Da” was 5 years old while his sister “Ra Ra” was 9 when they died of AIDS. Their panels show their love for Christmas, sewn into the fabric a Christmas tree, an angel, stocking and photos with a note, “Mommy loves you.” Block 3206 has a mother out of Florida remembering her 7 year old son “Leben” who she describes as “God’s Little Warrior.” She writes a heartfelt note on his panel which says, “You will always be in my heart and part of my life. Keep watch over me my little angel. I miss you.” Block 3926 has two panels representing a mother and daughter who succumbed to AIDS: Delores Leggett and Michelle Sharell Lewis. Michelle’s panel has her jump rope and hair ribbons sewn into it, along with photos and notes from loved ones. Block 4939 shares the story of 10 year old Otis K. Sharpe, Jr out of Rhode Island with a panel made from his mother. The panel has a pair of his red pajamas with photos, hearts and a drawing with a note from Otis. Block 5159 honors a mother and son, Stephanie Waller and Conrad Waller. Stephanie died at the age of 34, a year after Conrad. The panel is filled with beautiful memories with photos, Mickey Mouse ears, balloons, frogs and a basketball, along with notes from loved ones. Jerry writes, “Aunt Stephanie & ‘Lil’ Conrad – you will always have a special place in my heart.” Block 5714 includes several panels that honor children of South Africa who died of AIDS. One panel filled with teddy bears and a heart for Mnqobi Gerland, a 3 month old baby who, according to hospital caretakers was dying with AIDS and his grandmother was overwhelmed with his care because his mother herself had died of AIDS two months earlier. Another shows a beautiful pattern of giraffes and elephants with AIDS ribbons with an inscription “BELIEVE” sewn into it. Another honors several children on a panel with clouds as a backdrop that says, “Running Free – Forever Young.”
Display 7: This display is a collection of Quilt panels of Black children and young adults who lost their lives to AIDS. Block 1324 memorializes Shalonda Cobbs, a 2 year old from New Jersey made by the St. Clares Home for Children, which shows her pulling her wagon with her favorite children’s characters and lyrics from the Sesame Street theme song, “sunny days…on my way to where the air’s sweet.” Block 2145 honors Fabianne Curtis, a 19-year old college student attending Babson College. One panel, submitted from Babson College, is signed by some of her friends. Block 3423 honors a brother, Barry Sumpter, with a panel made by his sister. Sewn in the colors of the rainbow, it includes a smiling photo of Barry and two tennis racquets, showing his love for the sport. Block 3525 has a panel made by a mother and father from Texas honoring their son, Chris Stull, who died of AIDS at 15 years old. The panel shows him being embraced by an angel with a verse from the Bible which reads, “I have fought the good fight, I have finshed the race, I have kept the faith.” Block 3693 has a panel for 26 year old Bernard James Little from Vermont. His panel has a black kimono shirt he wore sewn into it with a photo of him wearing it surrounded by doves and messages from loved ones. Block 4837 shares the story of 23 year old “Lukie” Darrell Mackabee whose Mom remembers her son with a panel. On the panel she stitched into it many of his keepsakes from throughout his life. Block 5687 honors Linda Marie Moran, a 25 year old from Tennessee, with a panel that has stitched into it several photographs highlighting the many chapters of her life. Block 5719 remembers a 13 year old, Zinhle Mbali, from South Africa that was made by AIDS Services of North Texas. The panel has sewn into it several childhood keepsakes.
AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT VIRTUAL EXHIBITION
A exhibition which includes digital images from thousands of hand-sewn Quilt panels, each visually telling the story of loved ones lost to AIDS. - learn more
MARY BOWMAN ARTS IN ACTIVISM AWARD
ViiV Healthcare and the National AIDS Memorial have partnered to create the Mary Bowman Arts in Activism Award - learn more
BLACK LIVES AND AIDS ACTIVISM
The coupling of racism and AIDS stigma has been lethal. The National AIDS Memorial has long been committed to giving voice to the stories of Black lives - learn more
SEARCH THE QUILT
Search the AIDS Memorial Quilt, view each panel, search for a friend or loved one and share
your story through our social media channels - learn more
HISTORY OF THE QUILT
Conceived in 1985 by long-time San Francisco gay rights activist Cleve Jones - learn more
Memories of individuals who died of AIDS, stories of survivors and caregivers and advocates, and the broader story of the AIDS epidemic - learn more