John and Loula Williams were among the first residents in Greenwood, Tulsa. The couple met in 1903 in Mississippi and moved to Tulsa. John had a knack for working with machines. He got a job at The Thompson Ice Cream Company, running steam-powered chilling equipment in 1909.
John’s talent was in such high demand, and the job paid so well, that in 1911, the family bought the first car in Greenwood. The car was a brand new Chalmers Thirty Pony Tonneau. At the time, the car cost $1,600 (about $53,000 in today's currency). It was equipped with a three-speed manual transmission, plush leather seats, and a top speed of 50 mph.
John wasted no time learning how to undertake all of the car's repairs and upkeep, and he quickly found himself working on other people's cars as well. He had amassed a large clientele by 1912 that he left his job to launch his own vehicle repair shop. Williams' One-Stop Garage served both black and white car owners from all over Tulsa.
Loula Williams also switched careers. She started a confectionery on the first floor of a three-story building that the Williams' built when she left her teaching career. The family lived on the second story and rented out the third floor to attorneys as offices.
The Williams Confectionery was Loula’s pride and joy. Some of the products she sold were candy, ice cream, and a fully stocked soda fountain. Her shop immediately became a favorite among youths and young couples of all races.
The couple made a lot of money from the confectionary and the rental business, as well as from John's car repair shop. The family decided to pursue a new business venture: building a movie theater called the Dreamland.
The Dreamland Theatre first opened its doors in June 1913 and had a seating capacity of 750 people. The cinema was a hit and Loula's foresight paid dividends. The Dreamland Theatre swiftly surpassed the confectionery as a popular attraction in the town.
Tulsa Race Massacre
The Williams family's lives were forever transformed on May 31st, 1921. Their businesses and homes were destroyed by fire after a fight broke out between racist white people and local black people. The fight lasted the entire night and black people's homes and businesses were reduced to rubble.
Loula went to meet her lawyer after their homes and businesses were destroyed. However, fire insurance companies refused to pay for business losses. Fortunately for Loula, she also owned two other movie theaters that did not burn down. Loula's family also owned a house further north that had been spared from the flames.
The Williams Legacy
The Williams family were able to re-establish their home and business. Although the Williams managed to rebuild, they were never able to return to their previous level of riches.
Their businesses were severely affected by the great depression, and they had to sell their businesses to make ends meet. Loula became ill during the rebuilding process and died in September 1927. John survived till the beginning of January 1940.