Johnnie Mae Conner, a retired state administrator and community activist who co-founded a concert honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died March 26 at age 81.
The cause was kidney failure, said Tammy Broussard, a close friend and caretaker.
Mrs. Conner was active in civil rights and service groups. She was a past officer of the Sacramento branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a founding member of the Sacramento Black Women's Network. She belonged to the Sacramento Urban League, Black Advocates in State Service, Women's Civic Improvement Club, Les Beaux Arts Club and Zeta Phi Beta sorority.
In 1991, she helped organize a gospel concert by choir members from local churches and the Sacramento Symphony to honor King. The show, which raised money for youth music scholarships, capped annual celebrations of the slain civil rights leader's birthday until the symphony went bankrupt in 1996.
Mrs. Conner retired in 1985 after 30 years with the state Department of Corrections. Her career included positions as an administrator and consultant for adult and juvenile offender programs.
She belonged to the American Correctional Association; the California Probation, Parole and Correctional Association; and the California Black Correctional Coalition.
"She was a counselor for juvenile girls," Broussard said. "She was a strong, dignified woman and a role model. The girls really took to her."
Mrs. Conner was born in 1930 to Amanda and John Caldwell in Houston. Her parents' marriage ended during the Great Depression, and she moved with her mother to Oakland during the 1940s. Her mother, who had a third-grade education, worked as a seamstress and rented out rooms in their home to send her only child to UC Berkeley.
Mrs. Conner earned a degree in social welfare and spent most of her career in the Bay Area before moving to Sacramento about 35 years ago. She lived with her husband, Adolph Conner, a federal worker, in the Pocket area, and they had no children. After 41 years of marriage, her husband died in 2001.
Mrs. Conner volunteered with programs to help seniors. She served on a Sacramento County advisory commission on aging and helped design a plan to care for elderly members of St. Andrews AME Church, where she had been a member since 1984.
She spoke at workshops to improve sensitivity among people who serve the elderly, especially African Americans. In advice about addressing seniors in conversation, she warned against using first names or nicknames without permission.
"Showing respect is really important in the black community," she told The Bee in 1997, "especially for older people, because they were disrespected for so long."