The Johnson family lives in a poor, rural section of Georgia in the early 1970s. The head of the family and the narrator of the story is Mrs. Johnson, a husky self-suffient woman who is not afraid of doing man's work (butchering a hog). She lives with her younger daughter Maggie who has an inferiority complex: she has a stammer and scars from a house fire. At the beginning of the story, they wait in the front for her older, more beautiful and popular daughter Dee.
When Dee arrives, she is accompanied by Hakim-a-barber, a male college friend. Mrs. Johnson is surprised that Dee has changed her name to Wangero, giving up her Christian name in favor of a more African one as part of the Black Muslim movement. More, Dee wants and feels deserving of some of the family heirlooms, namely a quilt made by Grandma Dee.
Mrs. Johnson finds out that Dee/Wangero wants the quilt to put on the wall, not to use for its intended function (as bedding). Mrs. Johnson decides to give the heirlooms and quilt to her more deserving daughter Maggie who will use them, not as a pretense of displaying African heritage.