Based on Davis' 1961 play Purlie Victorious (which was later translated into the 1963 film Gone Are the Days! and which included all of the original Broadway cast, including Ruby Dee, Alan Alda, Beah Richards, and Godfrey Cambridge), it is set in an era when Jim Crow laws still were in effect in the American South. Its focus is on dynamic traveling preacher Purlie Victorious Judson, who returns to his small Georgia town hoping to save Big Bethel, the community's church, and emancipate the cotton pickers who work on oppressive Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee's plantation. With the assistance of Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins, Purlie hopes to pry loose from Cotchipee an inheritance due his long-lost cousin and use the money to achieve his goals. Also playing a part in Purlie's plans is Cotchipee's son Charlie, who ultimately proves to be far more liberal than his Simon Legree-like father and saves the church from destruction with an act of defiance that has fatal consequences.