The main character and narrator of Warriors Don’t Cry. Melba is one of the Little Rock Nine (i.e., the first black students in the United States to attend a previously all-white high school). She fights racism in its many forms throughout her life.
Melba’s grandmother. Grandma India is one of the most influential figures in Melba’s life. She is a deeply religious woman who provides Melba with a deep sense of purpose. It is Grandma India who tells Melba that warriors don’t cry, thus providing her with the title of her memoir.
A white student who befriends Melba. Link has a close relationship with his Nanny, who is black, which leads him to empathize with Melba. Though Link helps Melba in her fight against the segregationists, he never publicly declares his friendship with her.
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Melba’s younger brother. As an adult, Conrad becomes the first and only black captain of the Arkansas State Troopers.
Melba’s mother, also called Mother Lois. Lois teaches English at a Little Rock high school, and, at the time of the book’s events, is separated from Melba’s father, Will.
Also called “Papa Will.” Will is Melba’s father. He leaves the family before the events of the book unfold. Will objects to the integration effort.
The superintendent of Little Rock’s schools. He supports the plan for integration, but he does little to enforce it or protect the students.
One of the Little Rock Nine. Minnijean is Melba’s closest friend in the group. She is eventually expelled from Central for “fighting” and is sent to New York to attend school. Minnijean eventually becomes a Canadian citizen and lives on a farm as a writer and a mother.
Link’s nanny from childhood. Nana Healey is black, and Link has a very close relationship with her.
A white Central High student who is especially vicious toward Melba.
The president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in Little Rock. Mrs. Bates also runs a local newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, which champions integration.
The general in charge of the Arkansas National Guardsmen who are supposed to be guarding the Nine.
Melba’s boyfriend. He and Melba break up as a result of her transfer to Central.
A governor of Arkansas, later the president of the United States. When Melba returns to Arkansas to be honored with the rest of the Little Rock Nine, Governor Clinton treats them with kindness and respect, in stark contrast to former Governor Faubus.
A federal judge from Nebraska who orders Governor Faubus of Arkansas to allow integration to continue.
A white soldier with the 101st Airborne Division (the elite fighting force that President Eisenhower assigned to protect the African-American students at Central High School). Danny is assigned to protect Melba—at one point saving her from acid that is thrown toward her eyes.
One of the “Little Rock Nine,” the nine African-American students who participated in the 1957 integration of Little Rock’s Central High School. On the first day that Elizabeth attempts to enter the school, she is confronted by the Arkansas National Guard and almost attacked by an angry white mob. She is escorted away from the crowd by two white people, Grace Lorch and Benjamin Fine. As an adult, Elizabeth is the only one of the nine to remain in Little Rock. She holds a job as a social worker.
The then-president of the United States, Eisenhower proclaims that Governor Faubus is not allowed to defy the federal order to desegregate schools. When Faubus sends in the Arkansas National Guard to keep the African-American students out of Central High School, President Eisenhower responds by sending the elite 101st Airborne Division to escort the Little Rock Nine into Central High School.
Governor of Arkansas in 1957. Faubus gives the order to keep the African-American students out of Central High School, and orders armed Arkansas National Guardsmen to prevent Melba and her friends from entering the school.
A white reporter for the New York Times who protects Elizabeth Eckford from a mob of segregationists on her first day at Central High School.
A “moderate” Central High School student who attends the meeting with Mrs. Jorumn Rickets. He is called moderate because he does not advocate violence to keep the Nine out of Central.
A three-hundred–pound soldier with the 101st Airborne Division. Goggles is called in whenever any of the nine is facing major problems with the kids at school.
One of the Little Rock Nine, and the oldest of the group. Ernest is the first African-American student to graduate from Central High School. After his graduation, integration is halted for three years. Ernest eventually becomes vice president of a company called Shearson Lehman Hutton.
The director of the FBI. He dismisses Faubus’s outrageous claims that the FBI is holding white students for questioning.
The vice principal of Central High School. Mrs. Huckaby can’t protect the African-American students, but she does her best to control some of their attackers. Toward the end of the year, she essentially gives up.
An Arkansas judge who is assigned to the Little Rock integration case after Judge Davies is removed.
A white woman who protects Elizabeth Eckford from a mob of segregationists on her first day at Central High School.
The mayor of Little Rock, who opposes Governor Faubus and supports integration.
A crazy young girl in Melba’s community. Marissa saves Melba from a white man who tries to rape her when the announcement of Brown v. the Board of Education is made in 1954.
Melba’s good friend—not one of the Little Rock Nine—who eventually begins to avoid Melba’s company, as she fears violence.
The lawyer who argues on behalf of Linda Brown in the historic Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. As chief counsel for the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Marshall supports the Little Rock Nine’s efforts to integrate their school. Marshall goes on to become the first black justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.
The principal of Central High School in Little Rock.
A white Quaker woman from Santa Rosa, California. The McCabe family takes Melba in after Governor Faubus shuts down the Little Rock high schools.
A white Quaker man from Santa Rosa, California, whose family takes Melba in after Governor Faubus shuts down the Little Rock high schools. His wife is Carol.
One of the Little Rock Nine. Thelma has a heart problem that sometimes makes her breathless and weak. Thelma later becomes a teacher in Illinois.
A staunch segregationist and one of the main white troublemakers at Central High School. She is one of the white students who meet with the black students at the request of a Norwegian reporter named Mrs. Jorumn Rickets.
Melba’s shorthand teacher, and one of the few teachers at Central who disciplines the unruly segregationists.
One of the Little Rock Nine. She later becomes a magazine publisher.
A Norwegian reporter who arranges for a meeting between some of Central High School’s staunchest segregationists and some of the Nine.
One of the Little Rock Nine, Terry is a junior like Melba. Terry eventually becomes a professor at UCLA.
The driver of the station wagon that Melba takes to school under the supervision of the 101st Airborne. Sarge is friendly and efficient.
A powerful cleric in the black community. He gets Melba’s mother her job back.
The Little Rock assistant chief of police. Smith rescues Melba and the other African-American students from the mob that surrounds Central High School on their first day of class.
One of the Little Rock Nine, Jefferson is an athlete and a top student. He eventually becomes an accountant for the Defense Department in California.
One of the Little Rock Nine. Carlotta eventually becomes a realtor in Denver, Colorado.