In 1940, Thurgood Marshall is a NAACP attorney traveling through the country and assisting in court the blacks who are unjustly accused of crimes they have not committed, but are expelled as scapegoats for racial prejudice. When he returns to his office in New York, he is sent to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to defend Joseph Spell, a raped driver of rape by his white employee, Eleanor Strubing, in a case that heated the newspapers of the day.
In Bridgeport, assistant lawyer Sam Friedman is assigned by his brother to help Marshall enter the local bar, despite his opposition. At hearings, Judge Foster, a friend of Lorin Willis’s case-law father, agrees to receive Marshall, but forbids him from speaking during the trial, forcing Friedman to be Spell’s principal adviser. Marshall must guide Friedman through notes and suggest that he allow a woman to be part of the jury because she seems to have a strong and hardly influential personality.
Spell swears to Marshall that he never had any sexual contact with Strubing, and he was directing lawyers to a patrol officer who stopped Spell that night while driving the woman’s car. Marshall and Friedman investigate Strub’s story that Spell had tied it to the back seat after he raped her and then went to a bridge to throw her into the water, but Marshall wondered why she’d gone thrown into the area with soft water when it could have led her to where she was more upset.