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The story’s protagonist and first-person narrator. Bud has been living for the past four years in the Home, an orphanage, and has been in and out of the foster care system. His mother has passed away, and he wants above all to find his family and a place to belong. Bud is a resourceful, optimistic, and intelligent.
Read an in-depth analysis of Bud Caldwell.
The mother of the story’s main character. Momma dies when her son, Bud, is six years old. Her deep love for Bud pervades the story. Her presence and memory stays with Bud, and the clues and wisdom she shared with him feeds his hope as he searches for his family and a place to belong.
Read an in-depth analysis of Momma.
The man Bud thinks is his father. He is the cantankerous and volatile band leader of Herman E. Calloway and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression from Grand Rapids, MI. He doesn’t believe Bud’s story, but when it is revealed that he is Bud’s grandfather, Mr. C. softens and even apologizes to Bud.
Read an in-depth analysis of Herman E. Caldwell.
The vocal stylist in Herman E. Calloway’s band. Bud is immediately enamored with her kindness, beauty, and dazzling voice. Miss Thomas is drawn to Bud when she meets him at the Sweet Pea, and she becomes his spirited protector, consoler, and advocate.
Read an in-depth analysis of Miss Grace Thomas.
Bud’s best friend from the Home. When Bugs hears that Bud is “on the lam,” he goes looking for him. Like Bud, Bugs is a resourceful boy without a family. He has an adventurous spirit, wants to escape Flint, and convinces Bud to ride the rails west with him. He becomes Bud’s pretend brother.
The young girl in Hooverville. She meets Bud when they are given KP, or dish duty. She listens to Bud, and he trusts her enough to open up about his mother. Family is very important to Deza, and she’s hopeful to be reunited with her father one day. She observes that Bud carries his family inside of him. She gives Bud his first kiss.
Man who sees Bud walking on the side of the road outside Owosso, Michigan. Lefty is a kind-hearted, funny, older man who is concerned for Bud’s safety. He warns Bud about the dangers of being a Black person walking on the road at night. As evidenced by the box of labor organizing flyers in his car, Lefty believes in being a risk taker for a cause.
The family in line for a meal at the mission. Seeing Bud’s predicament in being late for breakfast, they pull him into the line as if Bud is their own child. The pretend father and mother make sure Bud gets a meal by outwitting the man in charge of the line.
The twelve-year-old boy at Bud’s third foster home. Todd instigates a fight with Bud, but then whines to his mother about it and blames Bud for hurting him. Bud betrays a begrudging respect for Todd when he admits that Todd might be as good a liar as he is, but later Bud gets his revenge for Todd’s dishonesty.
The parents of Todd Amos, at Bud’s third foster home. Mrs. Amos is smug and malicious toward Bud, and though she had initially agreed to take Bud in from the Home, she changes her mind. Mr. Amos displays his cruelty when he locks Bud in the shed for the night.
The trumpet player in the band and a close friend to Herman E. Calloway. He invites Bud to join the band at the Sweet Pea, and runs interference when things get tense between Mr. C. and Bud. He surmises Bud’s relationship to Mr. C. and tells Bud that Mr. C. is his grandfather not his father.
The saxophone player in the band. He is Bud’s favorite. Steady Eddie’s gestures, such as giving Bud a recorder and later an old saxophone case, demonstrate his generosity and welcoming spirit. Steady Eddie raises money among his fellow band members to buy a saxophone for Bud and promises to give Bud lessons. Through his attitude and actions, he gains Bud’s trust.
The band’s drummer. He’s hoping to hold on to his job as the band’s drummer longer than the last three did. Thug is a fun loving teaser, and it takes some time for Bud to get used to him.
The band’s trombone player. Doo-Doo Bug holds his own with his fellow band members and their banter. He, like the others, has a growing fondness for Bud.
The band’s piano player. As the only white member of the band, Dirty Deed’s name is on the deed for the Log Cabin, and it is his job to negotiate for the band to secure gigs that they otherwise could not get as a Black band. He is realistic about his place with the band and is a good sport about his fellow band members’ ribbing.
The six-year-old boy at the Home. Jerry is assigned to a temporary foster home on the same day Bud is. He is terrified about being sent to a foster home. He tries to be courageous and not cry, but the tears come and Bud attempts to comfort him.
The librarian who has taken the place of Miss Hill. She is kind and friendly and helpful to Bud in calculating distances from Flint to Grand Rapids in the Atlas. When the library is closing, she shares her cheese sandwich with him.
An employee of the foster care system. The caseworker tells Bud and Jerry they’ve been assigned foster homes. She tries to convince them, unsuccessfully, that they’ll be “very happy” in their new situations.