Brutus Jones (Paul Robeson) is a handsome, ambitious and devout churchgoer from the backwoods who leaves to become a Pullman porter in New York City. Once there, he gives in to his newfound world of fast money and loose women falling for Undine (Fredi Washington), the girl of his friend Jeff (Frank C. Wilson). Having failed to pull a quick-buck money deal, Jones shoots craps against Jeff before discovering that the dice are crooked. When Jeff lies dead after a fight, Jones is found guilty of murder and sentenced to life on a chain gang. Desperate to escape, Jones stages a breakout and kills a warder. Making good his escape to a Caribbean island, Jones eventually becomes the Island's ruler: The Emperor Jones. But will his sins catch up with him?