The author and Samori’s father. Coates is a dynamic intellectual with passionate opinions about being black in America, which change and evolve over the course of the book. His childhood in the ghettos of West Baltimore serves as the backdrop for all his later experiences.
Coates’ fifteen-year-old son, to whom the book is written. Coates makes it clear that their childhoods are different. Samori was raised in Brooklyn and has traveled with his father. Because of his environment, Samori has experienced less fear than Coates, but still recognizes the same gap between black and white that his father did.
Coates’ wife, whom Coates only refers to as “your mother.” She meets Coates at Howard, and engenders key changes within Coates, such as teaching him how to be a loving father and sharing her love of travel. She inspires him to move to New York City and travel to Paris, which provides Coates a wider perspective on the world.
Coates’ contemporary at Howard who was murdered by police. His murder has a serious impact on Coates and darkens his view toward the police and all of white America.
Prince Jones’ mother and a radiologist. She is the central character in Part III, when Coates visits her years after Prince’s murder. Coates respects her composure and determination to break the poverty cycle and give her children an excellent life.
Close friends of the Coates family (not blood relatives). Coates meets Uncle Ben at Howard and refers to him as a fellow searcher.
An unnamed, bisexual love interest for Coates at Howard. She challenges Coates’ prejudicial views towards bisexual and gay people and is the first to show him true tenderness. She teaches him that love is heroic, but does not return Coates’ interest romantically.
Coates’ mother and father. Coates refers to them anecdotally and says their love was hard, not tender. Coates’ father once worked as a librarian at Howard, and he provided Coates with many books from a young age.
Coates’ mother-in-law. She makes an impression on Coates when she tells him to take care of her daughter, Kenyatta. She helps Coates realize the magnitude of his responsibility as a partner and father.
Interviewer for a popular news show. Her interview with Coates opens the book, and by the end, she still does not seem to fully grasp his point about black bodies. Her lack of understanding represents the larger whole of America.