Boldly Celebrating Pioneering Black Actors in Star Trek's TOS

Live long and prosper my friends! I’m a HUGE Star Trek fan and I have been for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen every episode of every Trek ever made several times. That includes the movies as well as the tv series. Every since I was a kid watching the Original Series, I’ve been in love with what Trek represented, a world free of much of the divisions and suffering that plague us today. A universe where people living on the planet Earth are simply known as Humans, one race.

Gene Roddenberry was a man ahead of his time with his utopian concepts and the morality plays embedded in each episode caused viewers to think deeply about the reality in which they actually lived. This was done ever so brilliantly by purposely including a diverse set of actors from the start, most of whom were cast in roles of distinguished positions of authority within the Trekverse. Here is a list of my some of my favorites.

Nichelle Nichols: Lt. Nyota Uhura

And Uhura, whose name means ‘freedom’. She walks in beauty, like the night.“– Ambassador Kollos2268 (“Is There in Truth No Beauty?“)

Well, of course, we have to start with the Queen Mother of Trek. The forever fabulously fierce Nichelle Nichols! As a kid, I was in awe of Uhura. I wanted to be her so badly. She was beautiful and she got to fly around the galaxy on a starship. I thought, what better life could there be. Nichelle Nichols has always been one of my role models because she was not only a talented actress she used her platform to make real change by helping to diversify the space program.

In the documentary “Woman In Motion” we will finally get to see how, according to the synopsis, “Nichelle Nichols’ daunting task to launch a national blitz for NASA, recruiting 8,000 of the nation’s best and brightest, including the trailblazing astronauts who became the first African American, Asian and Latino men and women to fly in space.”

Woman In Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA

Nichelle Nichols was born Grace Nichols on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois. She began her show business career at age 16 as a singer with Duke Ellington in a ballet she created for one of his compositions and later sang with his band. After switching to acting, she was twice nominated for the Sarah Siddons Award for best actress in “The Blacks” and “Kicks and Company”. Her film debut found her dancing with Sammy Davis Jr. in Porgy and Bess (1959). A guest appearance on The Lieutenant (1963) led to an offer from Gene Roddenberry to join the cast of Star Trek: The Original Series (1966), which provided her best known role, as communications officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura.

She later repeated her role in a string of successful Star Trek films: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).

Don Marshall: Boma

Don Marshall’s heyday was on the small screen in the 60’s and 70’s. The athletic and clean cut actor is best remembered as first officer and co-pilot Dan Erickson in Irwin Allen‘s ground-breaking science-fiction series Land of the Giants (1968). Having excelled at football, pole vaulting and other sports at college, he happily undertook most of his own stunt work. Along with Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek: The Original Series (1966)) and Greg Morris (Mission: Impossible (1966)), Don was one of the precious few African-American actors of that period to be regularly featured as a prime time lead on screen. ‘Land of the Giants’ ran for a mere two seasons (51 episodes in all) and went off the air simply because the props became too expensive to produce. Over the years it acquired a steady cult following among science-fiction aficionados. (Source: IMDB)

Percy Rodrigues: Portmaster Stone

Commodore Stone in the Star Trek: The Original Series first season episode “Court Martial”

Rodriguez is known for lending his rich, authoritative voice to the narration of a number of film trailers, most notably for the 1975 summer blockbuster Jaws. He is also recognized for breaking the stereotype barriers faced by black actors during the 1960s and ’70s by portraying characters of authority like Commodore Stone. He played the regular role of Dr. Harry Miles on the TV drama Peyton Place during that show’s final season (1968-69); when he was initially cast on that series, a headline in the Los Angeles Times read “A Doctor’s Role for Negro Actor,” signifying the rarity of having black actors portray those types of roles at the time. (Source: Variety)

Janet MacLachlan: Lt. Charlene Masters

Here’s a bit of trivia for you. We know that the first interracial kiss on American television was in the Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.”  However, it almost happened a year earlier in the Star Trek episode “The Alternative Factor.” I don’t think the country was quite ready though. LOL (Source: Geek Twins)

tar Trek (1967) “The Alternative Factor” – Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Lt. Masters (Janet MacLachlan)

Janet MacLachlan was born on August 27, 1933 in New York City, New York, USA. She was an actress, known for The Thirteenth Floor (1999), Tick, Tick, Tick (1970) and Tightrope (1984). She died on October 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California, USA. (Source: IMDB)

She is was an American actress who had roles in such television series as The Rockford FilesAlias and The Golden Girls. She is best remembered for her key supporting part in the film Sounder (1972) where she was billed as Myrl Sharkey (credited as Merle Sharkey) as Teacher. MacLachlan worked with numerous well-known actors and actresses and celebrities such as Bill CosbyJim BrownJames Earl JonesMaya Angelou and Morgan Freeman. (Source: Wikipedia)