The second Delany child, 103 years old. Sadie is an obedient child who protests discrimination in a quiet but determined fashion. She is the first black woman to teach domestic science at public high schools in New York City.
The third Delany child, 101 years old. Vivacious and emotional, Bessie is an outspoken advocate for civil rights and a respected dentist in New York City.
A journalist and the co-author of Having Our Say. Hearth listens to the Delanys’ stories and gathers their anecdotes into chapters. She is the person the sisters address throughout the narrative as “child” and “honey.”
The Delanys’ father and first elected bishop for the Episcopal Church in the United States. Born into slavery to a mother who is part Native American, Henry later becomes the vice principal at St. Augustine’s School (now College). He encourages his ten children to attend college and is an amateur astronomer.
The Delanys’ mother and “matron” of Saint Augustine’s School. Of mixed parents, Nanny is often mistaken for a white woman during the Jim Crow era. She has a feisty personality and travels extensively as an older woman.
Nanny James Logan’s father and devoted partner of Martha Louise Logan. Known as “the meanest-looking man” in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, James is an illiterate white farmer and an occasional dentist and “root doctor,” which means he uses herbs and roots to cure various maladies.
Nanny James Logan’s mother and lifelong partner of James Miliam. A black woman born to a free mother, Martha has an entrepreneurial spirit. She owns her own cow and sells pasteurized milk products. She is a protective mother and accompanies Nanny to college.
The first Delany child. Named after the white Episcopal priest who helps his father attend college, Lemuel is the only Delany sibling who stays in the South. As a child, he is shot through the hand in a gun accident. He later becomes a respected physician.
The fourth Delany child and a gifted musician. Julia graduates from the Julliard School of Music in New York City and later teaches piano. She marries a handsome photographer and is the mother of Little Hubie.
The fifth Delany child. Hap goes to live with Mr. Miliam after Martha Logan dies. The first Delany to move to New York City, he works as a Pullman porter to save money for dental school at New York University. He and Bessie share a dental office in Harlem.
The sixth Delany child and the first of the siblings to find an apartment in Harlem in the late 1910s. According to Sadie and Bessie, Lucius is so good-looking that he makes women crazy.
The seventh Delany child. Manross serves in World War I and World War II and faces discrimination in the armed forces.
The eighth Delany child and a New York City political leader. Hubert pays his way through college by working as a Pullman porter. He is active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and becomes a judge. He works closely with New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia and knows many celebrities.
The ninth Delany child and an outstanding housekeeper. Laura travels to Los Angeles with a carload of Delanys in 1932 to watch the Olympics. She eventually moves to California with her husband.
The tenth Delany child. Sam is an undertaker who dotes on his mother. He dies at fifty-four of lung cancer.
Julia’s only child and a special nephew to Sadie and Bessie. Little Hubie is born “damaged” when a doctor uses forceps to help his delivery, and he dies when he is ten years old. The exact type of “damage” Little Hubie suffered is never explained.
Henry Beard Delany’s cousin. A former slave, Culot teaches sewing at Saint Aug’s. She is a vigilant chaperone to Sadie and Bessie.
A former slave who lives in an abandoned farmhouse on Saint Aug’s campus until he dies. Uncle Jesse delivers the campus mail and is like part of the Delany family.
An influential and controversial black leader and founder of the Tuskegee Institute for black students in Alabama. Washington believes blacks will succeed through education, not through political agitation. He capitulates to southern whites’ demand for “separate but equal” laws, feeling blacks should rely only on themselves. Sadie takes him on tours of her school district in North Carolina.
A great intellectual figure and editor of The Crisis, the NAACP’s magazine. Du Bois is a good-looking man with a mustache and intelligent eyes. Some think his approach is too fast and threatening. He always stays with Lemuel Delany and his wife when he visits Raleigh.
A world-famous actor, scholar, and political activist. During the Cold War, Robeson is attacked for defending the Soviet Union, and his political beliefs destroy his career. He is an old friend of Bessie’s, and Sadie and her mother see him perform Othello in London.