The American Civil War may be over by the time the novel takes place, but life is still hard for African Americans hoping that General Sherman's promise of forty acres and a mule for freed families will come to fruition.
For one thing, they have to contend with a gang of marauding white supremacists called Night Riders, who are determined to keep black folks in a state of permanent subjection, slavery or no slavery. The Night Riders go around from place to place, burning, killing, and intimidating any African Americans who might be thinking of bettering themselves.
One of many of the Night Riders' victims is Mr. Alonzo Deliverance, who owns a dairy farm. All Mr. Deliverance wanted to do was to make a good living, to get on in the world. But this is anathema to racists and white supremacists like the members of the Night Riders.
They see upwardly mobile African Americans as a threat to their warped way of seeing the world. As far as they're concerned, African Americans are fit only for slavery, and as such do not have the right to own their own farms.
In an act of murderous hatred, they descend upon Mr. Deliverance's farm like a plague of locusts, summarily lynch him from a tree, burn his grazing ground and shoot all his cows. It's evident from this outrage that there are many white people who don't believe that African Americans shouldn't be given the opportunity to work their own land and make something of themselves.