Last January, she stood facing about 200 people in an auditorium at Grant AME Church in Watts. As cheers of adoration washed over her, Mobley, a thin woman of regal bearing, thrust her chin forward in a characteristically defiant pose.
Moments passed. When the last voice had been stilled, when every head turned her way, only then did she speak.
"The hospital," she said gravely, leaning on a cane, "is being closed piece by piece."
There were murmurs, shouts of dismay.
"We have to stand together to fight this battle," said Mobley, her voice rising. "We have to rise every morning under God's will to save Martin Luther King."
That meeting, held to protest planned cutbacks at King/Drew, was one of many such gatherings she has addressed over the years.
Strong-willed and fiercely protective, Mobley, 74, is at the forefront of a coterie of African American leaders, most now in their 70s and 80s, who defend King/Drew with the same intensity that they once devoted to the civil rights movement.
To them, it is part of the same struggle.
Some vividly recall how things used to be, when they had to find a ride to the main county hospital some 15 miles away. It was a long trip if you didn't have a car — and most people didn't. "Twenty-five dollars sick" meant you were in bad enough shape to pay for a cab across town.
Many remember the case of Leonard Deadwyler, a black man who in 1966 was rushing his pregnant wife from their home in Watts to County General Hospital (today's County- USC) in Boyle Heights when police stopped him for speeding. An officer approached his car and shot him to death. The shooting was determined to have been an accident, but many saw it as a racist killing.
They also remember how the voters of Los Angeles County, mostly white, refused to pay for King/Drew's construction, forcing Supervisor Kenneth Hahn to find money elsewhere. Even now, threats to trim the hospital's budget revive fears that whites are trying to take it away.
"We see something that we fought really hard for," said Dr. Herbert Avery, 71, an obstetrician who helped plan the hospital and served briefly on its staff. "And now it's being driven down under the ground under the guise that the people out there they're black and Mexican and they're too stupid to run a hospital and a medical school."
Mobley's group is small, and its members hold no elective office, yet they are the curators of King/Drew's dream. They are often called simply "the Community," reverently spoken, as with a capital C. It is a status they have guarded ever more zealously as the neighborhoods around them have become increasingly Latino.
"If you're going to work at King/Drew, you have to work with the Community," said Dr. Thomas Yoshikawa, chairman of the internal medicine department. "You just can't come in and say, 'I'm the new kid on the block. I'm going to play the game my way.' No, you have to play the game their way."
Defying them can draw charges of racism — even when the transgressor is African American.
In the fall of 2003, members of Mobley's group paced the lawn in front of the hospital, as one bellowed through a bullhorn: "Marcelle Willock, you can't hide. We charge you with genocide."
Willock, who is black and Latina, is dean of the hospital's affiliated medical school at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. The protesters contended that she had not done enough to protect and support key programs.
While racial politics sometimes play out on its expansive front lawn, inside the hospital, King/Drew's legacy is on display.
In the lobby are prominent portraits of King; his wife, Coretta; and local political dignitaries posing beside former Presidents Clinton and Johnson. A photograph of King being greeted by the late Supervisor Hahn is hung in two places there and in at least six others around the hospital.