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Dr. Granville Coggs | A Man of Many Firsts


We love celebrating the story of firsts, women and men who pioneered their fields and paved the way for those who came after them.

Pine Bluff native Dr. Granville Coggs holds many “firsts” titles in the story and legacy he built. Many knew him as a cutting-edge breast cancer radiologist. But the title he used later in life was Tuskegee Airman, an elite group of men who broke the racial barrier in the United States Air Force. Following his military service, he became the first African American to serve as a staff physician at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco, California. And the first African American leader of the ultrasound radiology department at the University of California at San Francisco.

In 2001, Dr. Granville C. Coggs was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Pine Bluff to Little Rock

To fully understand Granville Coggs, we must remember his childhood days in Pine Bluff and the people who raised him.

Dr. Coggs’s dad, Tandy, was a historical leader in Arkansas education. We’ve shared earlier about his accomplishments as the first Superintendent at the Negro Boys Industrial School in Pine Bluff. He later served as the President at his alma mater, Arkansas Baptist College.

Growing up in an educator’s home, Granville knew education was necessary and the path to succeed around racial segregation. His mother used to say, “If it can be done, do it. And, if it can’t be done, still try to do it.”

When the family moved to Little Rock, Granville transferred to the famed Dunbar High School. He took a few courses at Arkansas Baptist College, but in 1943, he enrolled as a freshman at Howard University, a well-known historically Black university respected academically for its commitment to research notions at all levels.

Joining Tuskegee

With the world at war, Granville enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps at Camp Robertson in Little Rock during his freshman year. He knew he would be drafted, so he got ahead of the process and joined to try and follow the footsteps of another Pine Bluff native. They hoped to join the Air Corps for better-paying jobs than those waiting for drafting into the infantry.

He was smart, and it showed. After his initial training at racially segregated Kessler Air Force Base in Mississippi, Granville transferred to the Tuskegee Institute for continued college training and flight preparation. His testing allowed him opportunities with bombardiers and pilots and qualified him for flight officer training. He went through the Aerial Gunnery Training Program, focusing his training as a multi-engine pilot, aerial bombardier and gunner and the B-25 pilot program with the 447th Bombardment group. These steps qualified him as a DOTA, Documented Official Tuskegee Airman.

The 447th Bombardment Group, the Tuskegee Airmen, are most known for their racial bravery and unapologetic combat fighting. With commanding officers full of bigotry and racism, they endured extra challenges and blocked advancements based solely on their race.

But these men rose above. As a unit of entirely black pilots, they carried a tight-knit community that made them stronger servicemen and friends. They formed an all-black unit of daring fighter pilots for World War II. They were highly requested by allied partners for their professionalism, precision, and proven record of returning home.

It was important to us that we fight for the right to fight, whether, in the end, we were needed or not.” – Dr. Granville C. Coggs

While Granville Coggs did not participate in any combat missions during World War II, he trained with the other Red Tail Angels we call by name and was ready for any moment. Granville remained an active U.S. Air Force National Guard member until 1985.

Education and Preparing for Medicine

Following the war, Granville enrolled at the University of Nebraska, earning a bachelor’s degree with distinction. At the University of Nebraska, he was in the top 3% of his class, and his average was the highest held by any African American student to that point. Another First!

Later that spring, he enrolled at Harvard Medical School and was the only African American student in his class. While he was the first African American student enrolled in the University of Southern California’s Medical School, he wanted to attend Harvard to honor a mentor.

Uniquely enough, Dr. Coggs and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared living quarters while he worked on his Ph.D. at Boston University.

A Leader with Firsts

Granville used his medical training in many career journeys.

  • In 1959, Kaiser Hospital hired him as a full-time associate clinical professor of radiology, thus making him the first African American staff physician.
  • In 1972, he joined the staff at the University of Southern California, leading the Ultrasound Radiology Division as the first African American in that role, a department he founded.
  • In 1970, the American Medical Association recognized him for his scientific exhibit, “Nonsurgical Diagnosis and Treatment of Renal Cysts.”

His career moved him to San Antonio, Texas, where he developed his most significant accomplishments and lasting medical legacy. In this role, Dr. Coggs invented, patented and used non-invasive techniques for mammography and removing breast lesions. The San Antonio Breast Evaluation Center, which he founded, serves as a medical leader for the industry.

Using Retirement for More

While Dr. Coggs continued to practice general medicine in his retirement and served some years at the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Granville picked up a new passion, running, and became a multi-medalist in the national Senior Olympic games.

He even auditioned for American Idol at age 81, but producers informed him that he was 53 years over the age limit.

Limit. That’s a word that Granville Coggs was never defined by. He lived a life pushing past limits. Barriers did not hinder him, and his life broke through many corridors that others tarry in for their success today.

For more information about Dr. Granville C. Coggs’s life, read his book Soaring Inspiration,  co-authored with his daughter, Anita.

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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One response to “Dr. Granville Coggs | A Man of Many Firsts”

  1. […] His daughter reflects on her father’s influence and the lessons she has learned from him as an original Tuskegee Airman. Together, they celebrate the transformative power of love, mentorship and the human spirit, […]

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