Influential pastor, H.H. Brookins, dies

Rev. Hamel Hartford Brookins
Rev. Hamel Hartford Brookins

By Rebecca Trounson

The Rev. Hamel Hartford Brookins, an influential bishop and former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles who became a political power broker, civil rights leader and mentor to former Mayor Tom Bradley, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and many others, has died. He was 86.

The son of Mississippi sharecroppers, Brookins rose to prominence in the 1960s and ‘70s as an articulate, self-assured champion of Black political empowerment. He died Tuesday at a Los Angeles retirement center where he had been receiving hospice care, a church spokesman said. Brookins had been ill for some time.

Late in his career, Brookins came under scrutiny for alleged misuse of church and federal funds during his time as the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop in Los Angeles. He was dogged by similar allegations during later postings in Washington, D.C., and Arkansas. No charges were ever filed, but in 1993, Brookins resigned under pressure as the church’s leader in the Washington region. He remained a bishop of the AME church.

A freewheeling religious leader with a powerful preaching style, Brookins maintained his home in Los Angeles throughout a career that took him across the United States, and frequently to Africa.

“He really was not only a fantastic religious and spiritual leader, he was fabulous politician,” U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said Wednesday, noting that hers was one of many political careers Brookins encouraged and fostered.

His role in the Black community and his understanding of how to seek power and influence at a time when we had very little is something that really should be understood and appreciated,” Waters said.

In a career spanning more than four decades, Brookins had a knack for witnessing history – or as he once told a Times interviewer: “I’ve seen it all. And I’ve been a part of 80 percent of it.”

He marched arm-in-arm with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil right protests of the 1960s and along the way got to know Jackson, then a young lieutenant to King. While assigned to Africa in the mid-1970s, Brookins was banned from what was then white-ruled Rhodesia because of his activism on behalf of the Zimbabwe liberation movement. In 1981, the Zimbabwe government invited him to return for its first presidential inauguration.

Assigned to his denomination’s seemingly unglamorous Oklahoma-Arkansas district in the 1980s, Brookins developed a close friendship with Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas. When Brookins got married for the second time in 1987, Bill and Hillary Clinton were among the guests.

Born in Yazoo City, Miss., on June 8, 1925, Brookins was the seventh of 10 children. He attended tiny Campbell College in Jackson, Miss., and later graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Ohio’s Wilber-force University and a bachelor of divinity degree from Payne Theological Seminary in Ohio.

Brookins’ survivors include his wife, the Rev. Rosalynn Kyle Brookins, who is the pas-tor of Walker Temple AME Church in Los Angeles; the couples son, Sir-Wellington Hart-ford Brookins; and two step-children, Steven Hartford Brookins and the Rev. Fran-cine Nelson Brookins.

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