When Rosa Parks, an African American woman, is arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, it is the first volley in the great Bus Boycott, organized by Dr. Martin Luther King in order to desegregate the Birmingham transportation system.
The boycott is a decided inconvenience for Miriam Thompson (Sissy Spacek), a well-to-do white woman. Now, Miriam must drive to the black section of town to pick up her maid Odessa Cotter (Whoopi Goldberg) and bring her to work.
Outside of her own social circle, Miriam realises for the first time just how privileged, sheltered and self-centered her life has been. What brings this fact home is the realization that Odessa has literally been raising two families: the Thompsons' and her own.
Odessa has also sacrificed her own health and wellbeing to serve her "white folks" without question or complaint. Awakened to the true inequities of "Separate But Equal", and impressed by Dr. King's edict of nonviolent resistance, Miriam joins the boycott.
This stirs up the racist feelings harboured by Miriam's husband Norman (Dwight Schultz), who at the behest of his goonish brother Tunker (Dylan Baker) joins the Klanlike White Citizen's Council.
Everyone's true nature is exposed during the inevitable showdown and while nothing is resolved, there is renewed hope that justice will prevail. So far as anyone can determine, no wealthy white women really joined the bus boycott, nor was every white man in Birmingham aligned in some way with a hate group.
Directed by Richard Pearce.