The narrator, author, and protagonist of Black Like Me, and in some ways its only significant character, Griffin is a middle-aged white Southerner with a passionate commitment to the cause of racial justice in the year 1959. In order to understand what life is like for black Americans, Griffin undergoes medical therapy to darken his skin color, then poses as a black man for nearly two months. He publishes his experiences with prejudice and racism in the journal Sepia, leading to a firestorm of public controversy; he is eventually forced to move his family to Mexico to end the threat of violent reprisals from racist whites in his hometown in Texas.
The editor of a newspaper in a small Mississippi town. Like Griffin, East is a passionate advocate for racial equality in America. East's family is ostracized as a result of his stance, and his newspaper is a financial disaster. But he is an inspiration to Griffin, who sees him as a sign of goodness flourishing amid the evil of racism and segregation.
A soft-spoken, articulate black man who shines shoes for a living. Williams is Griffin's contact in the black society of New Orleans, and first helps him make the transition from being a white man to being a black man.
The owner of Sepia magazine, who warns Griffin of the dangers he will face if he goes through with his plan to pose as a black man.
The editor of Sepia magazine, who warns Griffin of the dangers he will face if he goes through with his plan to pose as a black man.
The dean of Dillard College, which Griffin visits during his stay with East.
A well-dressed black man who rides on Griffin's bus during his trip through Mississippi; Christophe is fawning toward the white passengers, and cynical and condescending toward the blacks with whom he is forced to sit.
The white photographer who photographs Griffin in New Orleans, coming to terms with his own social and racial preconceptions in the process.