The Logan family works hard to keep the small piece of farmland they own. They endure many racial injustices. The children are harassed by a school bus full of white children, so they dig out a ditch in the road, trapping the bus and breaking the axle. Cassie, one of the Logan daughters, takes a trip to the nearby town of Strawberry and is shocked by the disrespect she is greeted with. Meanwhile, more serious problems are developing. The Wallace boys burn some local black men, killing one, and so the Logan family begins a boycott of their store. When Stacey, their oldest boy, gets in a fight with his best friend T. J. at the Wallace store, Mama decides to take a tour of the local community and urge people not to let their children go there and not to purchase goods there. However, many families have nowhere else to shop. The Logans offer to buy good for them in Vicksburg, and Mr. Jamison backs their credit.
Meanwhile, Christmas comes, and both Uncle Hammer and Papa come home to join the family. Uncle Hammer drives a shiny new car. When Harlan Granger comes to try to convince the Logans to stop the boycott, Hammer and Papa are both defiant. However, Mama soon loses her teaching job, and other pressure is put on the Logan family. Other families who sharecrop Granger land are forced to return to the Wallace store. And finally, Papa's leg is broken during a violent attack he suffers while trying to make a trip to Vicksburg. Only the brute strength of L. T., a man Papa brings home to help work and defend the farm, drives away the attackers.
Soon, Granger forces the Logans to pay up on a loan they once took out from the bank. Uncle Hammer has to sell his car in order to make the payment. Meanwhile, T. J. has become a rogue, a known thief, and he hangs out with two trouble-making White teenagers, Melvin and R. W.. One day, they bring him along on a murderous rampage and manage to frame him. Papa and L. T. go to stop the lynching that follows. Almost as soon as they leave, however, the cotton field catches fire, as if it was struck by lightning. The lynch mob and the local black farmers must band together in order to stop the fire. It turns out that Papa started the fire in order to stop the lynching.
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