CLEVE JONES is an American AIDS and LGBT activist born on this date. He conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt which has become, at 54 tons, the largest piece of community folk art as of 2016. In 1983, at the onset of the AIDS pandemic Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation which has grown into one of the largest and most influential People with AIDS advocacy organizations in the United States.
Jones was born in West Lafayette, Indiana. He moved with his family to Scottsdale, Arizona, when he was 14 and was a student at Arizona State University for a time. Jones claimed, however, he never really accepted the Phoenix area as his home. His father was a psychologist. His mother was a Quaker, a faith she held at least in part to benefit her son in the era of the draft for the Vietnam war. He did not reveal his sexual orientation to his parents until he was 18.
His career as an activist began in San Francisco during the turbulent 1970s when, as a newcomer to the city, he was befriended by pioneer gay-rights leader Harvey Milk. Jones worked as a student intern in Milk’s office while studying political science at San Francisco State University.
In 1983, when AIDS was still a new and largely underestimated threat, Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Jones conceived the idea of the AIDS Quilt at a candlelight memorial for Harvey Milk in 1985 and in 1987 created the first quilt panel in honor of his friend Marvin Feldman. The AIDS Memorial Quilt has grown to become the world’s largest community arts project, memorializing the lives of over 85,000 Americans killed by AIDS.
Jones is portrayed by actor Emile Hirsch in Milk, director Gus Van Sant’s 2008 biopic of Harvey Milk..