Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 801
Captain Richard Davenport
Captain Richard Davenport, a black lawyer and military officer attached to the 343d Military Police Corps Unit. Davenport investigates the murder of Tech/Sergeant Vernon C. Waters. Ignoring the prejudiced statements and threats of Captain Charles Taylor, Davenport dispassionately fulfills his job and discovers that Private First Class Melvin Peterson murdered Waters while Private Tony Smalls watched. After the discovery, Davenport returns to his unit while the other men prepare to go to the front.
Captain Charles Taylor
Captain Charles Taylor, a white man in his mid-to late thirties who resents Davenport’s assignment and rank. Taylor wants Davenport taken off the murder investigation because he does not believe that a black man can accuse white men or solve the case. After interrogating white soldiers Byrd and Wilcox, Taylor orders that they be arrested; however, Davenport proves that they are not guilty. When Davenport discovers the truth, Taylor admits that he was wrong about African Americans being able to be in charge.
Tech/Sergeant Vernon C. Waters
Tech/Sergeant Vernon C. Waters, a well-built African American with light brown skin who manages the baseball team and is disliked by his men. Waters believes that black men must overcome their ignorant status and harasses his men who match the stereotype of being foolish. Waters belittles C. J. Memphis until Memphis attacks Waters. Feeling guilt after Memphis’ death, Waters drinks too much; he is beaten by Byrd and Wilcox after insulting them, but the two men leave him alive. Peterson and Smalls find Waters lying in the road, and after beating him, Peterson murders him.
Corporal Bernard Cobb
Corporal Bernard Cobb, a black man in his mid-to late twenties who defends Memphis when he hits Waters. Cobb relives the scene between Waters and Memphis. He visits Memphis in the brig, and after Memphis’ death, he helps throw the last baseball game. Cobb reports that Peterson and Smalls were on guard duty and the last ones in the barracks the night of Waters’ death.
Private Louis Henson
Private Louis Henson, a thin black man in his late twenties or early thirties who does not like to talk to officers and is the pitcher on the baseball team. Henson tells Davenport about the shooting at Williams’ Golden Palace and that he saw someone run into the barracks and put something under Memphis’ bed.
Private James Wilkie
Private James Wilkie, a black man in his early forties, a career soldier. Wilkie reveals his anger over losing his stripes. Waters removed his stripes after Wilkie drank on guard duty. Wilkie was ordered to place the murder weapon under Memphis’ bunk. Davenport places Wilkie under arrest.
C. J. Memphis
C. J. Memphis, a young, handsome, and superstitious black man from Mississippi who plays an excellent game of baseball. A likable man and the best hitter on the team, Memphis also plays the guitar and works harder and faster than anyone else, but Waters does not approve of him because he thinks that Memphis represents the honky-tonk side of the black man. When Memphis hits Waters and is put in the brig, he decides that he will not be caged like an animal. He commits suicide.
Private Anthony Smalls
Private Anthony Smalls, a black career soldier in his late thirties who is afraid of Peterson. Accused and arrested for going absent without leave (AWOL), Smalls claims that he did not go AWOL but got drunk and fell asleep in the bus depot. After Davenport’s interrogation begins, Smalls admits that he did go AWOL and that he watched Peterson shoot and kill Waters.
Private First Class Melvin Peterson
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Class Melvin Peterson, an angelic looking black man and model soldier in his late twenties who calls Waters “ole Stone-ass.” From Hollywood, California, by way of Alabama, Peterson plays shortstop on the baseball team. He joined the Army because he thought he might have the chance to fight. Peterson does not hesitate to talk back to Waters, and after a confrontation, the two men fight. Even though Waters beats Peterson, he later does not badger Peterson as much. Peterson discovers Waters lying on the ground in a drunken stupor. After kicking him, Peterson shoots him twice, once in the chest and once in the head.
Byrd, a spit-and-polish soldier in his twenties who works in Ordnance. Byrd fights with Waters outside of the NCO Club the night of the murder. Byrd orders Waters to shut up and starts shoving him. Byrd beats and kicks Waters and threatens to blow his head off.
Wilcox, a medical officer who keeps Byrd from killing Waters. More sympathetic to Waters’ condition, Wilcox tries to help. Wilcox attempts to keep Byrd from beating Waters, but Byrd breaks free of his grasp. Wilcox finally restrains Byrd and pulls him away.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 980
Lieutenant Byrd Byrd is a white, by-the-book military officer. He has a history of confrontation and conflict with black soldiers. The night he is murdered, Byrd beats Waters savagely after he comes upon the sergeant drunk and sick. When questioned by Davenport, Byrd is almost insolent and has to be threaten by Taylor before he will answer.
poral Bernard Cobb Cobb is in his mid to late twenties. He appears to be focused on women—on the women he wants, the ones he has had, the diseases they may have given him. He is closest to C.J. and is almost unmoved by Waters’s death.
tain Richard Davenport Davenport is an military lawyer, assigned to investigate the murder of Waters. Because he is black, the army really cannot find a place for Davenport and so has assigned him to police black soldiers. He delivers a lengthy monologue when he enters the stage for the first time. This speech tells the audience the background of the story currently being acted on stage. Other officers, most of whom are white, do not know what to make of a black officer, and he is an object of intense curiosity. Davenport is not intimidated by the reception he gets from the white officers. His investigation is thorough, and he quickly is able to delve into the events leading up to Waters’s murder.
poral Ellis Ellis is a by-the-book soldier. He is assigned to be Davenport’s assistant and his job is to deliver the men to Davenport for questioning.
vate Louis Henson Henson is in his late twenties. He is nervous and convinced that the Ku Klux Klan is to blame for Waters’s murder. Henson is used to being subordinate. He sits back and observes actions but is reluctant to speak up. When questioned by Davenport, Henson has to be ordered to tell his story.
vate C. J. Memphis Memphis, a young black soldier, was a special favorite of Waters. He entertained with his singing and guitar playing, and he played baseball with the troops as well. Waters likes C.J. initially, but he also sees him as representing everything that blacks need to put behind them—the singing, clowning, and dancing around. C.J. is jailed after he strikes Waters, but Waters had provoked the young soldier and his arrest demoralizes the young man, who had felt that Waters liked him. C.J.’s death, two months before Waters’s, sets in motion the events that follow.
Private First Class Melvin Peterson Peterson is in his late twenties. He is the neatest of the black troops, shoes polished, his stripe clearly visible, his uniform neatly pressed. Peterson had a history of conflict with Waters, having previously come to blows in a fight with Waters. The area of conflict centered on Peterson’s perception that Waters failed to support the men, allowing white soldiers to use the blacks as common laborers and not soldiers. Later when Waters arrests C.J., it is Peterson who insists that the men need to report the truth to the captain. Peterson is aggressive and not intimidated by Waters.
Private Tony Smalls Smalls is a small man in his late thirties. He is a career soldier and appears genuinely concerned about Waters’s murder. Smalls is arrested for going AWOL, and when questioned, he confesses to what he saw the night Waters was murdered.
Captain Charles Taylor Tayor is a white, West Point educated, officer in his mid to late thirties. When he first meets Davenport, Taylor confesses that he is not comfortable with a black officer. His only experience with blacks is as workmen or subordinates, and he indicates he cannot and does not support Davenport’s investigation. He is clearly displeased that Davenport is not subservient or willing to be ordered about by a man of equal rank, who is clearly, in Taylor’s mind at least, superior to any blacks. Taylor reluctantly becomes Davenport’s ally in the investigation. Taylor, while not believing in equality, also recognizes that blacks deserve to be given justice.
Tech Sergeant Vernon C. Waters Waters’s murder opens the play. Thereafter, his presence on stage is as a voice from the past. He stands slightly off-stage in a pale light and recounts experiences with different individuals. Waters was all military correctness, wanting what was best for his men, but at the same time, hard on them when they disappointed him. Waters had a son for whom he wanted a better future than the one the army offered. He planned to send both his son and daughter to a white man’s college so that they would be able to compete with whites and not be left behind. Waters was a complex man who could both praise and attack his men. His goal was to rid the army of southern blacks, who he felt held the entire black community back. But when C.J. commits suicide, Waters is stunned and realizes that he is to blame.
Captain Wilcox Wilcox is a medical officer who is accused of participating in a beating of Waters on the night he was murdered. Wilcox is the one officer who treats Davenport with respect and who appears to have no bias against blacks.
Private James Wilkie Wilkie is a career soldier in his early forties. He has recently lost three stripes. He was closest in age to Waters, and in spite of losing rank, pay, and going to jail for ten days, Wilkie claims to have had no hard grudge against Waters. Wilkie was Waters’s servant. He ran his errands, managed the ball team, and cleaned his quarters; but when Wilkie got caught drinking, Waters took all his stripes, which had taken him ten years to earn. Then as a bribe to force Wilkie to plant evidence, Waters promises to return his stripes.