Set in Bienville, Georgia during 1959, As Summers Die is centered around land that has been gifted to an elderly, poor, African-American matriarch, Elvira Backus (Beah Richards). Mysteriously, she was bequeathed 450 acres of land on Christmas Day 1940 by local tycoon Jonathan Holt. He was the brother of Hannah Loftin (Bette Davis), for who Elvira worked as a cook.
The film opens with a scene featuring Elvira’s daughter, Priscilla (CCH Pounder), asking her employer, attorney Willie Croft (Scott Peck), for protection to keep their family land from being taken away. Croft, who is of humble beginnings, is an outcast among his peers with more prestigious backgrounds.