Luther Brooks, a black man, has just passed his Board exams to become a certified doctor. Rather than work under a black doctor as his family expects, Dr. Brooks decides to stay at County Hospital where he did his internship to do his junior residency under his mentor, Dr. Dan Wharton, a white man, the most supportive person in authority he has ever known. Dr. Brooks wants to continue working under Dr. Wharton if only because he is still somewhat unsure of his abilities despite being at the top of his class and having the full confidence of Dr. Wharton. His first assignment is working as the head of the prison ward, where criminal brothers, Johnny and Ray Biddle, are brought in, both shot in the leg after a botched robbery. Upon a quick examination and obtaining some information about Johnny, Dr. Brooks believes that the gunshot wound is only secondary to Johnny's bigger problem of a previously undiagnosed brain tumor. Alone in the room with Ray and Johnny, Dr. Brooks conducts a spinal tap on Johnny to confirm his diagnosis, during which Johnny dies. An unabashed racist, Ray accuses Dr. Brooks of purposefully killing Johnny. Dr. Brooks wants to have an autopsy conducted on Johnny to confirm his diagnosis and that he did not kill Johnny, something that requires family consent, which Ray or any of the the other Biddles is unwilling to provide if only not to cooperate with anything that would help Dr. Brooks. When news of what happened between Dr. Brooks and Johnny gets back to Johnny and Ray's primarily white, lower class, crime ridden and racist neighborhood of Beaver Canal, another full out race riot seems a real possibility. Other such riots are still fresh on the minds of many in the black community, such as with Lefty, an elevator operator at the hospital who sports a facial scar and whose sister is permanently wheelchair-bound from a previous riot. Caught between the two worlds is Edie Johnson, Johnny's ex-wife who too has deep seated racist views if only because of her background, yet hates the Biddles and what they represent. Beyond the issue of the autopsy, Ray is determined to ruin the life of Dr. Brooks, not because of Johnny's death but because he is an upwardly mobile black man.