Based on William Faulkner's novel, an African-American appears to be guilty of a murder and may be lynched, but a boy, a lawyer, and an elderly lady help the sheriff discover who the killer is.
A police car using a siren brings the arrested Lucas Beauchamp (Juano Hernandez) past a white crowd to the jail. Lucas asks Chick Mallison (Claude Jarman Jr.) to get a lawyer. At home Chick leaves the table and tells his uncle John Gavin Stevens (David Brian) how he met Lucas. Chick is hunting with Aleck (Elzie Emanuel) and falls through the ice on Beauchamp's land. Lucas and his family help Chick, and he refuses to accept Chick's money. Chick goes to see Lucas in a store, and prejudiced Vinson Gowri tries to hurt Lucas but is stopped by others.
Stevens reluctantly agrees to visit Lucas with Chick on Sunday night. Lucas asks Stevens to take his case. Stevens asks him why he shot Vinson in the back, but Lucas says little. Chick goes back alone. Lucas asks him to dig up the body and says that Vinson was not shot with his gun. Chick tells Crawford Gowrie (Charles Kemper) and Stevens, who says the body may not be dug up because it is on Gowrie property.
Aleck and Eunice Habersham (Elizabeth Patterson) go with Chick to the grave. Chick and Aleck dig, but the coffin is empty. They and Stevens go to Sheriff Hampton (Will Geer). Stevens suggests that Eunice protect Lucas. The Sheriff has convicts start digging at the grave, but Nub Gowrie (Porter Hall) with a gun tells them to stop. Chick says his son is not in the grave. Nub has his sons dig and asks Stevens where the body is. They follow dogs, and Nub finds the body in quicksand.
A large crowd has gathered in town. Crawford Gowrie buys gas in a large can and tells Eunice to get out of the way. He pours gas at her feet and lights a match, but she does not move and tells the people to go home. Lucas tells Stevens that he did not see who shot Vinson.
Lucas describes what happened. Vinson asks him who has been stealing his lumber and is shot. The Sheriff brings in the rifle bullet they found in the body. Lucas suggests they bait the trap by letting him go; but the Sheriff and Stevens say he would be killed. Stevens tells Crawford Gowrie that Lucas is innocent.
The Sheriff meets Nub Gowrie at the home of Lucas, builds a fire, and waits for the murderer. Nub goes out and takes the rifle from his son Crawford as the Sheriff arrests him.
The Sheriff and Nub Gowrie tell the crowd that Crawford Gowrie killed his brother. Chick and Stevens watch the people leave. Stevens says they are running away from themselves.
Lucas comes to Stevens and Chick, but Stevens only accepts $2 for expenses. Stevens asks Lucas why he did not tell him the truth at first. Lucas asks Stevens if he would have believed him.
This drama portrays a culture in which most people assume
that those of African heritage are inferior and dangerous. Yet
a few people are able to stop an injustice by having open minds
and acting courageously.