From the very beginning, creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the world of Star Trek was an optimistic view of an Earth where humans had reached the pinnacle of understanding, a societal maturity where differences are not simply tolerated but embraced. A major part of this, from the very beginning, has been a diversity not only in major players but also supplementary characters. What follows here is a rundown of 10 non-starring black characters from the broad scope of the Star Trek universe who, each in their own way, represent the Star Trek vision.
Note- Only characters who are human or humanoid aliens virtually indistinguishable from humans were considered for this list.
Imagine for a second a television show establishing that one of, if not the, most brilliant scientist in the world was a black man responsible for not just one, but two, of the greatest technological creations known to man. In 2016 with someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson well known as a foremost scientific mind this might not seem like a big deal but this isn’t 2016- this is March 1968; no one has ever seen Planet of the Apes, Lyndon Johnson is running for President, Robert Kennedy isn’t and both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Hutton are still alive (in less than a one full month all of these statements would be flipped).
Dr. Richard Daystrom, played by the legendary William Marshall, is introduced in season two of the original Star Trek series as creator of the computer system that helps run ships like the Enterprise and whose new system is capable of running a ship by itself, sans crew. While the latter creation doesn’t quite work out in the end, showing a black man as one of, if not the, greatest scientific mind in the world in the turbulent 60s was an obvious way to show Roddenberry’s dream for the future realized.
One of the few alien characters on this list, Guinan, portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg on Star Trek: The Next Generation, was an El-Aurian, a race of “listeners” scattered by The Borg. Serving as a bartender on the Enterprise, Guinan developed friendly relationships with many members of its senior staff, particularly Captain Picard. She also had great sense of style when it came to fabulous hats.
In command of the starship Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Captain Terrell has the unfortunate luck of running into the vengeful Khan Noonien Singh. Simply described by his First Officer Chekov as a strong man, Terrell, played by the great Paul Winfield takes his own life instead of acting as as a pawn to take another’s.
Considered a legend in space exploration within the Star Trek mythos, Doctor Lily Sloane is another example of the Star Trek universe taking great care to show black scientific leaders playing a crucial role in the humanity’s reach for the stars. Played by Alfre Woodard in the Star Trek: The Next Generation film First Contact, Sloane is an aeronautical engineer who works on the development of the first warp drive on Earth.
Even before the original Star Trek series gave us a pioneering black scientist in it’s second season with with richard Daystrom, the first season episode “Court Martial” gave us another pioneering black Star Fleet official. In early 1967, the same year the United States Navy would see its first black Captain (Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., also to be the Navy’s first black admiral a few years later), classic actor Percy Rodriquez portrayed Commodore Stone, a top ranking Star Fleet officer who oversees the court martial of Captain Kirk.
Played by actor Bill Cobbs, Emory Erickson is another one of the Star Trek universe’s examples of great black scientists. Developer of the molecular transporter, Erickson appeared on Star Trek: Enterprise where he was shown to be something of a surrogate father to Captain Jonathan Archer, both having lost the corresponding figure in their lives.
As the name implies, Kasidy Yates-Sisko becomes the wife of Captain Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Introduced by Sisko’s son Jake and portrayed by actress Penny Johnson, the multi-faceted relationship between Yates and Sisko is another example of Star Trek guiding the way in a world of sci-fi where fully developed relationships between a black and a black woman are few and far between.
An old friend and Starfleet Academy classmate of Benjamin Sisko, Calvin Hudson was an experienced officer and leader who could inspire trust in his cohorts. Unfortunately that trust was misguided as Hudson, portrayed by Bernie Casey on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, was a double agent working with the rebellious Maquis.
While perhaps slightly more prevalent than black romantic relationships in the world of sci-fi, fully developed black familial relationships in sci-fi are unfortunately also a rare sight. With Geordi La Forge a key featured member of the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew, we are allowed to see the exploration of his family relationships and the stresses of being in a military/service type family as both his mother and father are members of Starfleet.
The mother Silva stands out as Captain of her own ship, though it is in this capacity that she becomes lost in action. Notably, this role was the fourth time that the late actress Madge Sinclair played the on-screen mother of LeVar Burton.
Another standout from the initial Star Trek run, Don Marshall’s Lt. Boma represented another example of Star Trek being bold in its portrayal of black characters in the 60s by being just that- bold- as he engages in an episode long back and forth with Spock as the latter suffers through a trial of leadership while rescuing Boma and his shipwrecked crew.
Shown to be a highly competent and forceful officer, Boma was actually intended to be a recurring character but scheduling conflicts served to rob this character of an even greater role in the annals of Star Trek lore.
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William Satterwhite is the creator of the superhero webcomic Stealth and a freelance designer, internet consultant and illustrator living in Douglasville, Ga. His professional website can be found at www.williamsatterwhite.info.