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Discrimination charges at the hospital

Madera County Historical Society

The old Madera County Hospital, shown here, was the scene of a hostile confrontation between a physician and two African-American women who were seeking medical assistance for their ill children.


In December 1964, the Madera County Hospital added a preeminent physician to its medical staff. It hired Dr. Adolph Drexel, one of Miami’s most prominent OBGYN physicians, who had just retired from his Florida practice and come to California. He was working on a new concept, Emergency Room Physicians, and wanted to experiment with his ideas in Madera.

Before a year had passed, however, the Georgia-educated doctor found himself in serious trouble with the Rev. Naaman Haynes, a powerful leader in Madera’s African-American community.

On the morning of Oct. 5, 1965, Rev. Haynes appeared before the County Board of Supervisors with an incredible story. He accused Dr. Drexel and the receptionist at the hospital of outrageous behavior toward two African-American women, Mrs. Josephine Morris and her sister, Mrs. Calvin Shoals, after they brought their youngsters to the hospital at 9:30 on the night of Sept. 14.

As president of the Madera chapter of the NAACP, Haynes was there to represent the offended residents and to demand Drexel’s resignation or at least an apology. Haynes also complained of unconscionable behavior on the part of the night receptionist. So egregious were her actions that Haynes asked the board to “make an immediate attempt to hire ‘one of our race’ as a hospital receptionist.”

According to Haynes, the trouble began with the receptionist. She asked the women to come back the next day so that they could get a clinic admission card, otherwise, they would have to pay the standard fee of $11. Mrs. Morris explained that, not only was she unable to pay the money, she couldn’t come back during the day because her husband worked out of town and needed the car. The receptionist responded by telling Morris that she should go get a job so she could buy a second car like she (the receptionist) did.

For some reason, Dr. Drexel injected himself into the discussion at that point. According to Haynes, he told the women, “I think I’ll get a bottle of shoe polish and paint my face black so that I can get free medical treatment.” (Drexel admitted making the remark but insisted it was only a joke.) Haynes also accused Drexel of saying, “Two days ago you (the black women) brought one child, yesterday another one, and pretty soon it’s going to be the whole d- - - family.” (The children were suffering from diarrhea and one was later admitted to the hospital for nine days.)

Haynes said the doctor’s remarks were followed with some by Mrs. Shoals and resulted in an exchange of cursing between the two. Haynes told the board that Drexel then “manhandled” Mrs. Shoals from the room. Haynes said “it was only the grace of God that a husband or father had not been present.” Board Chairman Harold Balmat promised an investigation.

Two days later, Dr. Robert Froeschle, County Hospital Medical Director, made a public statement defending Drexel and the receptionist and making some charges of his own. He said the hospital didn’t discriminate, nor would it be intimidated. He said Drexel would neither resign nor apologize, then he described personal threats and vile language that had been leveled at Drexel on the night in question. He put most of the blame on Mrs. Shoals. He said witnesses had told him that she had told Drexel that she would “blow your g--- d--- head off.” Froeschle also accused Shoals of threatening to burn Drexel’s property and kill his family. He said later that another member of her family came in and threw a medicine bottle on the floor and broke it.

Since that time, Froeschle said, a group of Shoals’ friends came inquiring as to where Drexel lived and one nearly rammed the car of an employee who was going home late at night.

Strangely, Froeschle did not deny the disparaging remarks made by Drexel and the receptionist. He said Drexel made his remark in response to Mrs. Shoals saying, “You’re a millionaire doctor, and we are going to get your money.”

In the meantime, Chairman Balmat said the entire matter would be investigated. District Attorney Everett Coffee said it already had been investigated, and no complaints had been filed. Then on Oct. 11, 1965, the saga reached its denouement.

The Board of Supervisors declared that it had investigated the case and found “no racial discrimination involved in the Sept. 14 fracas at the County Hospital.” The Board reached this conclusion by interviewing four doctors and the hospital administrator, none of whom had been at the hospital on the night in question. It also reviewed the district attorney’s report on the matter.

The board’s findings said, “This incident is closed with the board decision that it doesn’t warrant review by the outside, special team that had been discussed earlier by Rev. Haynes and Balmat.

Then on November 10, 1965, the final act in this drama occurred. Dr. Drexel announced his resignation from the hospital and left town. He and his wife moved to Jacksonville, Florida where they lived the rest of their lives.

Dr. Drexel died on Sept. 20, 1999 at the age of 97. His obituary listed his rise to prominence in the medical field and praised him as a “lover of words and a challenging conversationalist.”

One has to wonder if they made that phrase his epitaph?

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