The story depicts the escalation of various events in the Logan family. The Logans are a hardworking farmer family who own a cotton field. The book shows a crisp picture of the way the blacks were treated in society back in the 70’s and how bad the things they had to deal with were. The story starts with their children being mistreated by white kids in a school bus. They later dig a ditch and trap the bus. Moreover, their eldest daughter gets mistreated and such incidents compel them to boycott buying from the Wallace store. But later, a series of events that include Papa breaking his leg on his way to making a trip to Vicksburg, Mama losing her teaching job and Granger forcing others to join back the shop of Wallace’s using his powers brings down a lot of despair on the Logans. Harlan Granger is a sinister character in the story. He makes them pay a big loan they had taken in such a harsh time. Uncle Hammer sells his car to pay the debt. In the end, Papa sets fire to a cotton field to stop a lynching act that was to be performed upon T.J.
The first chapter introduces the children of the Logan family, Cassie, the daughter and the brothers, Stacey, Christopher-John and Little Man. It is the first day of a new year at school. They set out for school in their finest attire and T.J. joins them later on the way. A school bus carrying white school-going kids smears them with red dust as they walk to school. This angers them very much. They reach the school in time, Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School. After reaching school, they are handed old used books for the new year’s syllabus but Cassie, a fourth grader and Little Man turn them down since they are handed down by the whites after they’re done with them. They get whipped for opposing the decision of the teacher. Cassie wants to complain to Mama but notices that she had been eavesdropping the incident. She even agrees with the teacher for the punishment that they had been given for disobeying.
The second and third chapters have a pretty good plot buildup. The Logans are seen plucking cotton from their fields. When Cassie tries to pick cotton from the highest of branches, she notices her father appearing with L.T., a former railroad worker who was fired for defending himself from the whites. The next thing is the news in church about Berry, a black guy who dies from burns given to him by the whites. This stirs up a discussion among the people. Papa warns the children to avoid going to the Wallace store, a bar run by the whites. The kids dig a ditch to trap the kids in the bus to avoid being smeared with mud. The plan works out fine and they are happy. T.J.’s father warns the Logans that the White Men are coming. Cassie notices caravans stopping and men talking at night. She thinks that the whites are infuriated due to the school bus incident. She sees L.T. hiding in the dark.
The next story shows Stacey’s character mainly. The Logan children start feeling guilty for ruining the road and fear the caravans with white men engulf them. Yet, they decide not to confess. The next scene shows T.J. sharing a cheat sheet with Stacey which he tears before the exam. Later, T.J. makes another one and out of fear he passes it on to Stacey during Mama’s classes. After class, Stacey chases T.J. to the Wallace’s and L.T. breaks up their fight. Meanwhile, Big Ma watches Granger’s car pass by. She remarks to Cassie about how wittily her now dead husband, Paul Edward had managed to own a land when Harlan Granger was poor. Stacey again confesses out of honor, like before for saving T.J., that he had gone to the Wallace’s and Mama puts fear in his heart by making him visit the Berrys. They were burnt by the Wallaces. Mama warns people about the Wallaces on the way home.
The next two chapters show how Cassie is mistreated at Strawberry town and Uncle Hammer’s entry. Big Ma takes Cassie, Stacey and T.J. to the town of Strawberry one day. She goes there to run an errand but T.J. is hell-bent on doing something notorious. So, he manages to convince the other two kids to go shopping. There, Cassie is mistreated by a shop clerk followed by Lillan Jean and her father for stumbling upon them. Big Ma makes Cassie apologize against her will since she had no fault. This saddens everyone. After reaching home, they see a shiny car and to their surprise, it is Uncle Hammer’s. After hearing the incident of Cassie, Hammer goes out with a gun to shoot Lillian’s father but is stopped by L.T. The day after, Uncle Hammer takes them to church, gifts Stacey a coat and go for a drive later on. While crossing a bridge, the Wallaces are amazed to see the car.
The following two chapters start the main motion of the story. T.J. convinces Stacey to give him his coat. Uncle Hammer gets angry but lets T.J. keep it. Papa returns before Christmas with L.T. They sit telling stories one evening and L.T. tells the children how his parents were killed by white men. Cassie overhears the discussion about boycotting Wallace store and plans on Vicksburg. The children get books for Christmas and the Averies join them for dinner. Jeremy visits Stacey and gifts him a flute. Big Ma plans on transferring ownership of the farm to Papa and Hammer. The Logans start transporting foods from Vicksburg to the local people. Granger threatens them with loans. Uncle Hammer leaves before new year. Cassie tries to be friends with Lillian. She becomes her secret keeper and they have a fight. Mama gets fired for changing offensive words after T.J. complains at Wallace’s store. He does this since he fails an exam.
Later, a bad series of events unfolds. T.J. is seen mixing with the older Simms brothers. The Wallaces are more serious about getting their business back. On one early summer night, some farmers tell Papa to stop bringing things for them. The Wallaces are threatening to oust them from their homes. This does not let Papa down since only a number of seven families had backed out. He tries to go out and still buy things for others from Vicksbury. Papa, Stacey and L.T. are attacked by the Wallaces on the way to Vicksbury. A bullet grazes Papa’s skull. The horse runs out of fear and the wagon wheel runs over Papa’s leg, ultimately breaking it. Stacey blames himself for the accident while L.T. drives the mugs away. The Logans become financially crippled and Hammer has to sell his car to pay the debts to the bank. T.J. shows off his white friends but the children feel disgusted.
At the end of the night on revival’s last day, a storm starts to brew. T.J. knocks at the door of the Logans’. Cassie attends to the door and lets him in. He looks badly hurt. Stacey feels very suspicious looking at him. T.J. starts explaining how he went with Marvin and R.W. to buy a pistol with the handle studded with pearls. Instead, they ended up robbing and injuring the shopkeeper. He mentions that they all had put on masks except him. The white kids help him reach home but as soon he had reached home, a lynch mob starts beating up his whole family. They were blaming his family and some other black families for the robbery that occurred. Even, the Simms brothers were acting as a part of the mob. When Mr. Jamison tries to calm down the mob, they get even more infuriated and threaten to kill the Logans and L.T. along with T.J. Cassie and the younger boys come to hear of it and rush home to inform Papa about the news. Stacey stays back to see about T.J. Cassie ultimately tells the family all that she had heard. Hearing this, Papa and L.T. go out with guns. Meanwhile, Mama notices that the cotton fields were set on fire and the probable cause was lightning. She, along with Big Ma try to stop the fire. The children hear Jeremy knocking at the door when it was dawn. Jeremy informs them that the fire had been put out. Cassie and Little Man go out to check the scene. They see that the blacks and whites altogether were trying to put out the fire. It had distracted the mob from lynching. The elder Logan children are upset about T.J.’s arrest although they did not like him much. In the beginning, Cassie fails to understand how the fire had started but soon realizes that it was her father who had done it.