In 1935, the Sunday dinner of Sheriff Royce Spalding is interrupted when he summoned to deal with Wylie, a drunk African-American teenager. During the confrontation, Royce is accidentally shot and killed. The town men bring Royce’s body home, where his wife Edna explains to their children, Frank and Possum, that their father is dead. A car arrives at the Spalding house, dragging Wylie’s dead body, as Edna’s sister, Margaret Lomax, stops by to console her sister. In another part of town, two lovers, Wayne Lomax and Viola Kelsey, meet in secret in an abandoned house. When Wayne returns home, he consoles his wife Margaret, and she confesses her fear that he too will end up dead. Wayne says that he loves her and nothing will happen to him. After church, Margaret brings food to Edna, but she is not hungry. She is worried about her family’s future because Royce was the breadwinner. In the town’s African-American community, Wylie is buried in a plain pine coffin, while Royce is buried in grandeur in the cemetery for white people. Sometime later, Edna gives dinner to Moze, an African-American man passing through town, who proposes that he could grow cotton on her farm and sell it. She declines his offer, and he leaves in the morning with some of her silverware. Mr. Denby from First Farmer’s Bank visits Edna and informs her that a mortgage payment on the farm is due in the middle of the month. When Denby suggests that she sell the farm and split up her family until she settles her finances, she tells him to leave. Later, Edna asks Margaret if she can help out in her beauty shop, but her sister says there aren’t enough customers. At night, Deputy Jack Driscoll arrives at Edna’s house with Moze and the stolen silverware, but Edna covers for Moze and tells Jack that Moze is her new farmhand. After Jack leaves, Edna asks Moze to plant cotton on her farm and warns that if he steals again, she’ll shoot him. When Mr. Denby learns of Edna’s plan to grow cotton, he is pessimistic and shows her a stack of foreclosures but she is determined. Edna buys cottonseed and Moze makes sure that she is not cheated and purchases a quality product. Meanwhile, Denby persuades Edna that the bank will look upon her situation more favorably if she takes in a boarder like his blind brother-in-law, Mr. Will. Edna cooperates, although Will makes it clear that he is displeased with the arrangement. Wayne continues his affair with Viola but is still attracted to Margaret. When the couple arrives late at the local dance, Viola and her husband, Buddy, require an explanation, and as the men get drinks, Margaret tells Viola that her husband’s lovemaking caused their delay. Upset, Viola ends the affair with Wayne. Back at Edna’s farm, Will discovers that Edna’s children have been playing his records and demands that Edna keep them away from his possessions. Later, Frank is caught smoking by his teacher Viola, and receives a spanking from Edna, who has never had to punish her children in the past since discipline was always Royce’s responsibility. The violent act upsets her and she confesses to Will how she misses her husband. Soon, a tornado descends and the townspeople take cover. As Edna struggles to move her plow horse into the barn, the wind caves in the attic walls where Possum plays with her dollhouse, but Will hears her scream and runs to rescue her. Moze opens the storm cellar and everyone in the household steps down to safety, including Frank, who arrives just in time. Meanwhile, Buddy climbs over debris to rescue Viola and her students from the damaged schoolhouse. As Buddy hugs his wife, Viola sees Wayne watching from across the street, and suggests to her husband that they move to another town. Once the storm is over, Edna’s home is damaged but still standing. At the bank, Edna asks Denby for an extension on her mortgage payment and while she waits for approval, she sees photographs of the winners of cotton-picking contests. Later, Edna tells Moze and Will that she will win that contest even if it kills her, because it is the only way to save her farm. During an evening of card playing, Buddy and Viola announce their move to Houston, Texas, but Margaret suspects an affair between her friend and her husband when Wayne reaches for the deck of cards and Viola avoids his touch. After the friends leave, Margaret confronts Wayne about his affair and says that she is no longer in love with him. At Edna’s farm, the family picks cotton except Will, and Moze warns that Edna’s plan will not work unless they hire extra pickers. Edna promises that she’ll pay the pickers from the contest money and they pick all night. When Edna takes their crop to the cotton gin owner, Mr. W. E. Simmons, he offers a low price, but Edna threatens to sell her crop to the Wheeler gin and Simmons reconsiders, offering an above-market price. At night, Will hears a noise, and Moze goes to the barn, where several Ku Klux Klan members beat him. Will grabs Royce’s gun, heads toward the barn and shoots the Klansmen until he runs out of bullets. When Will makes it clear that he recognizes the voices of Mr. Simmons and his associates, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Shaw, they leave. Afraid of the Klan’s return, Moze says goodbye and leaves the farm. Later, Buddy and Viola leave for Houston and pass by their church. Inside, as the minister gives a sermon on love and forgiveness, Margaret takes Wayne’s hand, and the congregation passes a tray of wine glasses. Each member of the congregation takes a glass: Moze, Will, Possum, Frank, Edna, even their deceased loved ones, Royce, and Wylie. In the background, the hymn “Blessed Assurance” is sung by the choir.