John Howard Griffin
Griffin is passionate in his beliefs about equality and the injustices suffered by black people. After publishing his experiences living as a black man in the South for six weeks, he and his family experience strong reactions, both positive and negative. The negative ones drive him to move to Mexico to avoid the threats surrounding him in his Texas hometown.
George Levitan is an old friend of Griffin's who is known for his willingness to hire the best people for his magazine regardless of race. Griffin broaches his idea to tint his skin and live as a black man in the South to learn about the daily lives of black people. Levitan is highly interested in the proposal, but also fearful that Griffin may be putting himself at great risk. Nevertheless, he agrees to fund Griffin's trip in exchange for articles Griffin will write about his experiences.
An elderly and intelligent black man, Sterling Williams first meets Griffin while Griffin is still a white man. He shines Griffin's shoes repeated over the first days. When Griffin returns as a black man, Williams at first does not recognize him but then is delighted, and he quickly agrees to help him learn the ropes of being a shine boy and black man.
A white man, P.D. East is a strong advocate for social justice who has been persecuted by his white neighbors. But when Griffin calls, East doesn't hesitate to pick him up and take him to his home. He had once been a successful newsman in the small town, but couldn't restrain his natural sense of justice. His calls for justice accelerated and in time, he lost many of his subscribers and was "sinking into economic ruin."
A white photographer, Don Rutledge is a "tall, somewhat skinny young fellow ... a gentleman in every way." He accompanies Griffin as he writes his stories on Atlanta and later as Griffin retraces his steps in New Orleans. Along the way, Rutledge comes to realize that white America was mostly unaware of the scenes and black experiences he was photographing.