Brookins, 86, had been living in a retirement center in Los Angeles, where he died Tuesday after a long illness, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Hamel Hartford Brookins was born in Yazoo City, Miss., where his parents were sharecroppers. He became a minister in 1954 and came to Los Angeles in 1965 after stints in Lawrence, Topeka and Wichita in Kansas.
A civil rights activist, Brookins played an active role in fostering the career of Tom Bradley, who became mayor of Los Angeles, the first black to head a major western city. Later, as head of the Oklahoma-Arkansas district, Brookins became a friend of the young Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton.
"He really was not only a fantastic religious and spiritual leader, he was a fabulous politician," U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said. "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."
Brookins also worked for the church in Africa in the 1970s and was banned from what was then white-ruled Rhodesia.
He is survived by his wife, the Rev. Rosalynn Kyle Brookins, a son and two stepchildren.