Milkman (Macon Dead III) The first "colored baby" born at Mercy Hospital. Milkman is the youngest child and only son of Ruth and Macon Dead. Torn between his father's materialistic values and his aunt Pilate's unconventional lifestyle, Milkman — prompted by his father's greed — embarks on a quest to claim Pilate's illusory gold. During the course of his journey, Milkman is transformed from an immature, irresponsible boy to a mature, responsible man who values his cultural heritage.
Macon Dead, Jr. Milkman's wealthy, materialistic father. Macon's fervent belief in the mythological American Dream causes him to reject his heritage and adopt the value system of the white mainstream culture. As a result, he finds himself alienated from his family, his community, and his African heritage.
Ruth Foster Dead "The dead doctor's daughter." Ruth, Milkman's mother, is a frail, fragile woman who copes with her empty life by escaping to a fantasy world and maintaining near-incestuous relationships with her father and son.
Magdalene (Lena) Dead Ruth and Macon's eldest daughter. Although Lena lacks a formal education, she possesses instinctive, intuitive knowledge that enables her to resist her father's distorted value system.
First Corinthians Dead Ruth and Macon's youngest daughter. A well-educated young woman, Corinthians adopts her father's materialistic values; eventually, however, she escapes her empty life when she finds a job, takes a lover, and leaves home.
Pilate Dead "The singing woman." Milkman's aunt, teacher, and spiritual guide. Born without a navel, Pilate is a self-created, independent woman who carries her name — the source of her power — inside a dangling brass box earring.
Reba (Rebecca) Pilate's unmarried daughter. Reba's life centers around her daughter, Hagar, and her brief, noncommittal relationships with various men.
Hagar Pilate's granddaughter and Milkman's cousin and lover. Obsessed with romantic love, Hagar internalizes the ideals of white female beauty.
Jake (Macon Dead, Sr.) Milkman's grandfather. The youngest son of Solomon and Ryna, Jake is renowned for creating and cultivating Lincoln's Heaven, a thriving farm he carved out of the wilderness. Loved by the black community because he identified with his people and served as their role model, he is murdered by whites for trying to protect his land.
Solomon/Sugarman "The Flying African." Milkman's great-grandfather. According to legend, Solomon flew back to Africa, leaving behind his wife, Ryna, and their twenty-one children.
Mr. (Robert) Smith "The little insurance agent," whose death heralds Milkman's birth.
Freddie "The gold-toothed man." Freddie works as a janitor for Macon Dead and considers himself a friend of the family. An incorrigible gossip, he is responsible for naming Milkman.
Guitar Bains Milkman's friend, confidant, and intellectual sparring partner. A street-wise hustler, skilled hunter, and political activist, Guitar's arrogance and skewed sense of justice leave little room for compromise.
Mrs. Bains One of Macon Dead's tenants. She is a proud woman struggling to survive amidst abject poverty while raising her two grandsons, one of whom is Guitar.
Henry Porter Another of Macon Dead's tenants. He and Corinthians eventually move in together as lovers.
Railroad Tommy and Hospital Tommy Owners of Tommy's Barbershop, located in Southside's Blood Bank district.
Feather Owner of Feather's Pool Hall, a Southside hangout for local residents.
Mary A barmaid and part owner of Mary's Bar and Lounge, another Southside hangout.
Empire State A World War I veteran. Empire State is a casualty of love and war who seeks refuge in silence and revenge. His name alludes to his behavior: "He just stood around and swayed."
Michael-Mary Graham The local poet who hires Corinthians as her maid.
Reverend Cooper A minister in Danville, Pennsylvania. He introduces Milkman to the group of old men who knew Milkman's grandfather, Jake, and who remember Macon and Pilate as children.
Esther Reverend Cooper's wife.
Nephew Reverend Cooper's nephew.
Circe The midwife who delivered Pilate and Macon and helped them escape following their father's murder by the Butlers, the wealthy white family that employed her as their housekeeper.
Solomon Owner of Solomon's General Store in Danville, Pennsylvania.
Omar, Calvin Breakstone, Small Boy, Luther Solomon Members of the hunting party who initiate Milkman into the rituals of the hunt and accept him as part of Danville's black community.
Sweet The young woman who introduces Milkman to the pleasures of reciprocal love.
Susan Byrd Daughter of Mary and Crowell Byrd, and granddaughter of Heddy Byrd, the Indian woman who adopts Jake after he is abandoned by his father, "the Flying African."
Sing Byrd (Singing Bird) Milkman's grandmother and Jake's wife.
Grace Long A friend of Susan Byrd who befriends Milkman when he visits Susan seeking information about his family.