Richard Wright The author-narrator, the "black boy" of the title.
Ella Wright Richard's mother, whose illness prevents her from caring for herself and her children.
Nathaniel Wright Richard's father, a victim of the Great Migration, who leaves his family early in Richard's life.
Alan Wright Richard's brother; for most of his life, he lives in Detroit with Aunt Maggie.
Grandpa Ella's father, a disabled veteran of the Union Army.
Granny Ella's mother, a Seventh-Day Adventist with whom Richard and Ella spend most of his childhood.
Aunt Addie Ella Wright's sister; she is Richard's teacher in a religious school; at home, she is Richard's archenemy.
Aunt Maggie A favorite of Richard's because of her sympathy and independence.
Uncle Hoskins Aunt Maggie's husband, who is killed by whites.
Professor Matthews Her second husband, who is chased from town by whites and always remains a mystery.
Uncle Clark A cold and childless man who takes Richard to live with him in Greenwood.
Aunt Jody Uncle Clark's wife, whose strict character repels Richard.
Uncle Thomas A representative of all that Richard finds weak and hypocritical in black men.
Miss Simon The head of the orphanage which Richard attends briefly. She tries and fails to win his trust.
Griggs A classmate of Richard's whose attitudes are representative of many black boys he meets.
Reynolds and Pease Two white racist coworkers.
Mr. Crane A white Yankee employer of Richard's who advises him to go North.
Mrs. Moss Richard's landlady, a warm but suffocating woman.
Bess Her daughter who wants Richard to marry her.
Shorty An elevator operator and friend of Richard's who sells himself daily to get a few pennies from whites.
Mr. Olin The foreman in the optical house who sets up a fight between Richard and Harrison.
Harrison A black employee of a rival optical house, he is used as a pawn in the fight with Richard.
Mr. Falk An Irish Catholic coworker of Richard's who helps him get books from the library.