After a tragic boating accident kills the owners of a plantation in the post-Civil War South, their four-year-old daughter, Ellen, is left orphaned. At the reading of the will, black couple Will and Hannah, whose family has lived and worked on the Mitchell plantation for generations, are shocked to learn they have inherited the land and the trusted charge of raising Ellen. Will and Hannah are humbled by the trust the Mitchells had in them, but terrified of the future without their guidance.
Despite protests from white landowners, Will and Hannah raise Ellen to adulthood along with their own daughter, Bea. The two young girls grow up without noticing the difference in the color of their skin. They are like sisters-sharing dolls, making mud pies, and picking cotton with the field hands.
The girls' differences become more apparent as they reach maturity and their friendship is tested. But Ellen and Bea cling to the strength of Will and Hannah to see them through the trials and tribulations, eventually finding their own happiness through love, marriage, and family.