The book is a story of a black woman in the South who was born into slavery in the 1850s and lives to become a part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Her name is Miss Jane Pittman, and in the beginning she lives on a plantation in Louisiana as a slave. Until, on the day of the Emancipation Proclamation, her master frees all the slaves, including her, and she and most of the other slaves leave the plantation. On the first morning after their escape, a group of "patrollers," who later become known as the KKK, invade and kill everybody except for Jane and Ned Douglass, her adopted son. So Jane and Ned decide to go to Ohio and they start walking the long journey, not knowing how far or even if they're going in the right direction. They walk until they can't anymore, then they stumble upon a plantation run by Mr. Bone, who offers both of them a job, and they accept it. Ned and Jane split and go separate ways. Ned becomes part of a committee, and a part of the U.S. Army. Jane marries Joe Pittman who breaks horses for a living and they move to a ranch. Jane and Joe Pittman live there for years until one night, Jane has a dream in which Joe gets injured while breaking a horse, and after the dream, she begs him to retire. He doesn't, so Jane lets the horses loose and Joe is killed trying to capture them. After Joe's death, Jane moves in with Ned. Ned builds a school, but for his actions, is shot and killed by Albert Cluveau. At the Samson plantation, there is someone named Jimmy Aaron. In the end of the book, a girl is arrested for drinking from a white water fountain, so Jimmy, Jane, and a crowd protest until Jimmy is shot and killed. Jimmy was the leader so Jane bravely takes the lead and marches on.