During the 1960s, Star Trek was one of the only television shows, genre or otherwise, that stood proudly at the forefront of the civil rights movement.
Issues explored in the original series and subsequent shows included authoritarianism, imperialism, class warfare, economics, racism, religion, human rights, sexism, feminism and the role of technology.
As Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry noted, “[By creating] a new world with new rules, I could make statements about sex, religion, Vietnam, politics, and intercontinental missiles.
“[And] we did make them on Star Trek: we were sending messages and fortunately they all got by the network.”
Roddenberry’s vision of racial equality extended to all future Star Trek shows, such as The Next Generation (TNG), Voyager, Enterprise and Deep Space Nine (DS9).
Indeed, the Deep Space Nine space station was commanded by none other than Captain Benjamin Cisco, played by veteran African-American actor Avery Franklin Brooks.
During the sixth season of the show, writers Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler penned an episode that dealt specifically with the 20th century civil rights struggle. In “Far Beyond the Stars,” Benjamin Sisko – who considers leaving Starfleet – is distracted by visions that rapidly increase in duration and rate.
During one of his visions, Brooks assumes the role of Benny Russell, an African-American science fiction writer living on Earth in 1950s New York City.
Brooks works with a diverse group of fellow writers, such as Herbert Rossoff (Quark), who plays the role of a left-wing Jewish novelist, the British Julius Eaton (Dr. Bashir), K.C. Hunter (Kira Nerys), who is forced to adopt a male nom de plume because she can’t publish under her real name, Albert (Miles O’Brien) who pens stories about robots, and Douglass Pabst (Odo), the editor of Incredible Tales.
Russell writes a story for Incredible Tales based on Deep Space Nine, which is commanded by an African-American captain. Unsurprisingly, the publisher chooses to pulp (scrap) the issue of the magazine containing Brooks’s story, believing it would be too controversial for the racist status quo of the 1950s.
Russell breaks down after learning the publisher wants him fired, but before he quits, Russell tells Pabst that he and the publisher cannot destroy an idea.
It is now 2012 and today we mark Martin Luther King Day. Yes, America has come a long way since the 1950s, but the struggle for equality and justice is certainly far from over.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said way back in 1967: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth… With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “‘This is not just.'”