Verna Williams at Santa Monica Beach in 1931
Verna Williams is pictured with a friend named Sidney in 1931 at a segregated section of Santa Monica Beach sometimes called “the Inkwell.” The term, first used by whites, was a derogatory reference to the skin color of the black beachgoers. Some African Americans reclaimed the term as an emblem of pride, while others never called the beach by this name.

Verna Deckard Lewis Williams (1906-1998) was born in Tatum, Texas of African-American, German, Scotch, and Native American descent. Her father  owned a blacksmith  business that was deemed too successful by local white residents, who burned it to the ground, forcing the family to move to the nearby town of Terrell in 1919. Three years later, her father again became the target of racial violence  and, fearing for his life, fled to Los Angeles. During a 1924 visit, Verna decided to stay in Southern California and, after a brief courtship, married Arthur Lewis. Less than three years later, Lewis died from tuberculosis, leaving Verna, aged 20, a single mother with a young son. Verna worked as a cashier at Gaiety Theater and eventually obtained her real estate license. Despite discriminatory restrictions on  where African Americans could purchase homes, Verna had a successful career in real estate for 45 years, along with occasional work as a movie extra. She married Lewis Williams in 1964 and later obtained her associate degree in home economics.

Verna's Oral History Interview

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