Bishop Hamel Hartford Brookins, a pastor at the First AME Church of Los Angeles for 13 years who helped quell the Watts riots and elect Tom Bradley mayor, died Tuesday at noon, the church announced. He was 86.
Born in Yazoo City, Miss., where his parents were sharecroppers, Brookins, known by his initials H.H., began his activism in the 1950s as a clergyman in Topeka, Kan., where he helped implement a desegregation plan ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Brookins also worked on behalf of the Zimbabwe liberation movement and was ousted from Rhodesia. His support included furnishing food, clothing and medical supplies to the freedom fighters. He also urged his congregations to provide asylum.
In 1981, he was invited to Zimbabwe’s first presidential inauguration.
Within the AME Church, Brookins played a pivotal role as Bishop of the 17th Episcopal District in helping develop indigenous African leadership to head the church on that continent.
Domestically, he served as a founding member of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s economic activist organization, Operation PUSH, and worked in Jackson’s presidential campaigns.
Brookins developed a friendship with Bill Clinton when assigned to his denomination’s Oklahoma-Arkansas district in the 1980s, when Clinton was governor of Arkansas. Clinton was among elected officials, celebrities and religious luminaries who paid tribute to Brookins at the Beverly Hilton in 2002, praising him for his civil rights legacy.
Clinton recalled when Brookins ministered in a country church in Arkansas. “I still can’t quite get used to the fact that you’re wearing purple,” Clinton said, referring to Brookins’ status as a bishop “and I got to be president.”
“I learned a lot by your side, had a lot of good times. But my heart will always be with you, because in sunshine and in rain, you were always with me.”
Brookins is survived by his wife, the Rev. Rosalynn Kyle Brookins, pastor of the Walker Temple AME Church in Los Angeles, a son, Sir-Wellington Hartford Brookins, and two stepchildren, Steven Hartford Brookins and the Rev. Francine A. Brookins.
Funeral arrangements are being finalized and will be announced on the church’s website, famechurch.org.