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John D. Williams came to Indian Territory fleeing oppression in his native Mississippi. His wife Loula, came from Tennessee. There were no black physicians for blacks. In 1905, she would be taken to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to give birth to a son William D. Williams. In the south, John had worked as a steam engine mechanic for the railroad. His skills secured him a job working on engines for a Tulsa ice cream company. The family prospered. In 1911, they bought a new Norwalk and became the first blacks in Tulsa to own a car.

As more blacks began to purchase the horseless carriages, Williams opened the East-End Garage. Later, they built a three-story building on the northwest corner of Greenwood and Archer.

The building housed North Tulsa's first ice cream and confectionery parlor, a rooming house and space for Tulsa's growing professional classes doctors, dentists, lawyers, barbers, realtors, and others. In 1914, the Williamses would build a two story, 21-room building a block away with a new and expanded garage. A city ordinance prohibited a rooming house over a garage. In that space, the Williams Dreamland Theater as created as the first black entertainment center in the state. In addition to silent movies and music concerts the theater would host speakers such as NAACP firebrand W.E.B. DuB0is who had urged self-defense against the tirade of lynching. One of the early warnings of the melee at the courthouse came to the audience at the Dreamland; someone entered the theater and shouted "riot!" The customers streamed out and entered into the confusion on the streets. All the Williams properties would be destroyed in the ensuing battle. John and Loula would file more than $200,000 in court claims without success.

The day of the disaster, Booker T. Washington's class of 1921 was preparing for its graduation and prom. Class President William D. Williams wrote the following prophetic class preamble for the yearbook:  "Today the class of June 1921 is one coordinate organization. Tomorrow it becomes 18 separate bits of individuals, swallowed up by the great outside. The race war cancelled Booker T. Washington's graduation and the prom. Williams and his father and mother would be placed in separate concentration camps, each not knowing the fate of the other for several days.

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