The main characters in Juneteenth are Alonzo Hickman, the jazz musician who transforms himself from a trombone player into a minister, and Bliss, his adopted white son, who later becomes Sunraider. Hickman’s role throughout the novel is to represent both the patience and the faith of that group of people to whom the novel is dedicated: “That Vanished Tribe into which I was born/ The American Negro.” Hickman’s patience and forbearance are demonstrated again and again in the novel, primarily through his willingness to raise the child that brought about his brother’s lynching. Hickman hopes that Bliss will become the one who brings whites and African Americans together through the power of the rhetoric he learns from his adoptive father. Instead, Bliss becomes the very opposite of what Hickman hoped he would be.
The transformation of Bliss to Sunraider is brought about by a number of factors. At one point, the senator explains to Hickman that the power of rhetoric he learned in the church was too much for him: “What could I do with such power? . . . I could bring a man to tears. I could topple him to his knees. Make him shout, crack him up with the ease with which shrill whistles crack icebergs.” The narrative also provides evidence that Sunraider was drawn to the white world by his mother’s attempt to kidnap him from a church service. Calling him Goodhugh Cudworth, she literally grabs for him and is only foiled by the heroic and comic actions of Sister Bearmasher. Bliss later thinks that he sees his mother in a movie and longs for her and for the world she represents.