Memphis, Tennessee, 1937, a time when the South's aristocracy is crumbling amidst the deeply racist views of its citizens. At a white hospital a Nurse belittles a black Orderly, a polite young man eager to improve himself, and is severely condescending to an Intern, a white man, who is seemingly in love with her. When the Intern finally turns on her she vows to retaliate by ruining his career. The conflict comes to a head when a blood-spattered black man, a car accident victim, stumbles in pleading to get help for his woman friend who is in his wrecked car. The Nurse orders him out, but the Intern convinces the Orderly to go with him to investigate. The Nurse is furious. When they return the Intern announces, in a helpless fury, that the woman is dead. The driver reveals that his woman friend was the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. The Nurse admits she had heard of Bessie, but it seems her anger at the futile rescue by the Intern is the only emotion she feels.