SACRAMENTO – He rose from humble beginnings in Del Paso Heights to the upper echelons of Sacramento politics and state public service.
Grantland Johnson, the first and only African American to serve on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, passed away Tuesday apparently of diabetes-related kidney failure. He was 65.
Johnson was referred to by civic leaders from all walks of life as “selfless,” “a true public servant,” “a legend,” and “one of the most influential Black leaders to ever emerge from Sacramento.”
He was first elected to public office in 1983, when he gained a seat on the Sacramento City Council. He made history just four years later when he was elected to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. He was re-elected to represent District 1 in 1990.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton’s administration came calling, appointing him a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services. In 1999 Gov. Gray Davis appointed Johnson as Secretary, California Health and Human Services Agency, the largest state agency in the United States. In that position, he served as the Governor’s chief adviser on health and social service issues and fought for access to affordable health care, senior services and employment benefits.
A well-respected political expert, Johnson was a familiar face and strong voice in city, county and state policy arenas. Colleagues said he championed the need for diversity and social justice, worked to protect the interests of the working class and used his position in the political arena to better the lives of those around him.
In March 2011, he was honored for his dedication to North Sacramento and his beloved Del Paso Heights when a new soccer field at the Hagginwood Community Center, was dedicated in his name. As a child, Johnson played Little League baseball on the same field.
“I was overwhelmed and deeply honored,” Johnson told the OBSERVER at the time.
A student-athlete, Johnson graduated from Grant High School. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Government from Sacramento State University. The university also bestowed an honorary doctorate degree in Humane Letters upon him in 2011.
His affiliations were numerous, however, some included servings as co-chair of the California State Association of Counties; Health and Human Services Policy Committee; CSUS College of Health and Human Service Advisory Committee; Center for Collaborative Policy Advisory Committee; fellow, National Academy of Public Administration, and board member for the Congress of New Urbanism, Local Government Commission and Alliance for Redesigning Government.
The OBSERVER honored Johnson as a community legend in 2003. He is survived by wife Lee Turner, a daughter, Patrice, from a previous marriage, and two sisters, Catherine Harris and Rose Morris.
A visitation is set for August 20-22 at Chapel of the Chimes, located at 4701 Marysville Boulevard. Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 23 at Antioch Progressive Church, 7650 Amherst Street. A reception will follow immediately after the service.