Military Hospital Radiologist Started as Tuskegee Airman
By Andricka Hammonds
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Feb. 17, 2006 At a time in American history when black men were thought to lack intelligence, skill and courage, Dr. Granville Coggs proved those prejudices wrong.
Dr. Granville Coggs, staff radiologist at Brooke Army Medical Center, evaluates a mammography X-ray searching for abnormalities. Photo by Andricka Hammonds
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Now 81 years old, Coggs is a radiologist at Brooke Army Medical Center, a gold medalist in the Senior Olympics, a former Tuskegee Airman and a former professor who made history.
In 1943, Coggs was drafted into the Army for World War II. He didn't want to be an infantry soldier, and decided to apply for the new Tuskegee Airmen program at the Tuskegee Army Airfield. The Tuskegee Airmen program was meant to produce America's first black military airmen.
From 1943 to 1946, Coggs served in the segregated Black United States Army Air Corps. He earned military badges for aerial gunner, aerial bombardier and multi-engine pilot.
This was a new program, and in Coggs's eyes, it was a way to survive the war. After bombardier school, he continued school to receive his pilot training. By the time he was fully trained the war was over, and Coggs looked toward his future.
Coming from a family background of educated blacks, Coggs always knew he was college bound. "In my family, college was not an option, but the next step in life," he said. His father was a doctor, a rarity during those times.
He met his soulmate, Maud, near the end of his training at Tuskegee. She was on her way to the University of Nebraska, and Coggs, love-struck, soon followed. "She was going to Nebraska, and I wanted to be her roommate, so I moved up north," he joked.
As the relationship progressed, Maud asked him one simple question: "How are you going to take care of me?" That was when he decided to go to medical school. "There was a girl I needed to impress, so I told her I would go to medical school, and I did -- and it worked, because she's my wife," said Coggs.
With his bride, he moved to Boston. He explained things were much different for women in the workplace in those days. Maud was refused a teaching position in the Boston Public School System not because of her race, but because she was a married woman.
"Back then, a married woman's place was not at work, but in the home," Coggs said.
When Coggs went to medical school, he said, it was the first time he was treated as a person, rather than a black person. In this new world, he was living in the same dorm facilities as the white students, while at the University of Nebraska he was not permitted in the same living quarters as whites.
"It was a novel idea, blacks and whites living in the same dormitory. I adjusted to it right away," said Coggs. He said growing up around segregation was simply the way it was. "I knew it wasn't right; I just didn't expect anything different. The family I grew up in believed in integration, but that wasn't the way my world was."
He remembers his teachers encouraging him while he was growing up to do his best at whatever he does. "I had supportive black teachers. They told me that to compete in this world, I would have to do better than what's expected, and they were right," said Coggs.
He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1953. Coggs made history again in 1959 by being the first black physician at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in San Francisco. He established the ultrasound division, at the University of California's radiology department in 1972.
In 1975, Coggs was a tenured professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. In 1983, he established the San Antonio Breast Evaluation Center, specializing in diagnosis.
Coggs began competing in the Senior Olympics in 1997 as a runner in the 400-meter dash, winning two gold medals and a silver medal. In 2001, he joined the legacy of black Americans when he was inducted in the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, in company with famous author and poet Maya Angelou.
The doctor said he plans to retire at the age of 90. Until then, the grandson of slaves will continue to work as a radiologist, run in the Senior Olympics and make his morning swim every day before work in his 94-degree pool.
(Andricka Hammonds is assigned to the Brooke Army Medical Center public affairs office.)