Quincy is an African-American man in his late twenties, brother to Woody. He is physically rugged and emotionally hard. He returns home after a four-year hiatus, having been falsely accused of murdering a white man. When local bigots seek revenge for his alleged crime, Quincy shows the full force of his strong personality. His brawn contrasts with Woody’s more reserved nature, creating tension. Quincy experiences a profound change in nature when an unsuspecting white man rescues him from a lynch mob, prompting him to actively seek to build a loving relationship with his brother that never previously existed.
Woody is an African-American man in his mid-twenties, husband to Ruby. He is handsome and good-natured. The return of his older brother, Quincy, from a self-imposed exile of four years places an emotional strain on him. Though he wishes to welcome his brother home, he struggles with bitter feelings over his brother’s history. A sensitive man, he is prone to moodiness. At times he is happy and content with life’s circumstances while at other times he falls into depression, even despair. Woody is pensive and thinks deeply about why things are as they are. He is deeply in love with Ruby, leaning on her for support and encouragement. Her death devastates him, but eventually becomes an event that teaches him to love others as she loved him.
Ruby is an African-American female in her early to mid-twenties, wife to Woody. She is equally beautiful inside and out, displaying an appealing degree of personal depth. A portrait of inner strength, Ruby finds a way to be optimistic in the direst of circumstances. Her patience is deep, allowing her to be a reservoir of strength for Woody. Having no family of her own, she has adopted Woody’s family as hers. She is especially fond of Woody’s elderly and blind grandmother, Mama Drieka. Despite her lowly socio-economic status, Ruby embodies grace. Her death during childbirth provides the impetus for Woody and Quincy’s reconciliation.
Mama Drieka is an African-American woman of about sixty-five. Blindness and the rigors of a difficult life cause her to be physically feeble, though she is tough as nails internally. Deeply and equally devoted to her grandsons, she is torn by the rift in their personalities. Mama Drieka dotes on Ruby, whom she treats as the granddaughter she never had. She is sometimes superstitious and always religious. When Ruby comes to her for advice, the old woman displays uncanny insight into the human condition.
Mr. Guillebeau is a white male, about sixty years of age. He owns a gristmill and is Woody’s employer. Mr. Guillebeau is kind and more than willing to share the lessons of life he has learned with Woody, and even Quincy. Strong-willed, he is intolerant of bigotry and shows surprising moxie when called on to confront the likes of Clyde Rawlins. We discover that he had a falling out with his father forty years earlier over slavery due to his strong and enduring convictions about human equality.
Mrs. Guillebeau is a white female of about forty-five years, wife to Mr. Guillebeau. She is physically attractive and a prototype Southern lady. She employs Ruby as her domestic.
Clyde Rawlins is a white male, approximately forty years old, husband to Mertice. Clyde’s entire presentation is slovenly, to the point of disgusting. He is an alcoholic bigot with no tolerance for anyone different than he is. Beneath his tough exterior facade is a woeful, even fearful person. Clyde is unhappy, but rather than attempt to improve his lot in life, he simply makes life a living hell for all around him. He dies of a presumed suicide.
Mertice is a wife female in her early thirties, wife to Clyde Rawlins. Had life not been so cruel to her, Mertice would be pretty. Instead, she embodies depression and despair. Her lot in life is so dismal she has given up hope that it will ever improve. For years she has endured the abusive treatment of her husband. Finally tiring of his ways, she finds the nerve to unleash herself from his figurative chokehold. Despite her rueful existence, she manages to show affection to her two young children.
Miss Kylie is a late middle-aged African-American woman. Her portly build is a result of her skills in home cooking. The community of African-Americans often gathers in front of her shack for nighttime gatherings. A good-natured woman most of the time, she shows strong opinions and leadership when needed.
Jojo is a middle-aged African-American man who has a natural gift for singing. He is often called on to entertain his community friends with passionate renditions of old Negro spirituals. Jojo is a serious man whose pensive capacity is revealed in the depth of his music. Jojo shows courage when local bigots lynch one of his.
Uncle Ike is a spirited eighty-year-old African-American man who is always ready to entertain others with his quick wit. A master storyteller, others never tire of hearing his familiar tales. When lost in a story, the old man becomes animated and humorously histrionic. Uncle Ike is cantankerous in a lovable way, not at all inhibited in sharing his opinions.
Brother Cleave is a middle-aged African-American man who is the appointed reverend of the local African-American church. The sing-song delivery of his simple homilies may belie the depth of his message to the unsuspecting listener. Brother Cleave has a simple way of knowing how to say the right thing at the right time.
Miss Faye is a sixty-something African-American female. She is the local midwife whom Woody calls on when the time comes for Ruby’s pre-mature delivery. When Ruby fails in childbirth her normal self-confidence erodes. She is called on to speak a word at Ruby’s graveside service as a way of restoring her stature within the tightly knit community.
Eugene is a middle-aged African-American male who plays a leadership role in the community. When hardship visits shanty town, Ernest steps forward to encourage community togetherness.
Mayso is an adolescent African-American male. A lively young person, he enjoys mixing with the adults and takes the opportunity to “strut his stuff” when the opportunity arises. He is forced to reveal information to local bigots prior to a house burning.
Inez is a haggard elderly white female. A hermit, who sells an especially potent brand of homemade liquor, Clyde seeks her out when in the depths of despair. Half-crazed, she is quick to taunt and fearful of no one.
Hiram is a middle-aged white male. One of Clyde Rawlins accomplices, he helps Clyde gather a group of men to carry out a lynching of Quincy.
Virgil is a middle-aged white male, another of Clyde’s “yes” men who assists in organizing the lynching of Quincy.
Abraham is a sixty-something African-American male, husband to Miss Faye.
Minister. A middle-aged white male who delivers a blistering word of caution to the white community from his pulpit one Sunday morning.
Tyrone, Ernest, & Leo are African-American males, ages six to nine, who pull shenanigans and act out in typical boyish fashion.