When Michael Burnham became captain of the USS Discovery at the end of the third season of Star Trek: Discovery, she joined the prestigious list of Black captains in the Star Trek universe. Though the number of Black captains is still small, the representation they’ve brought to the Star Trek universe is powerful.
Here are some of the amazing Black folks who’ve commanded their own ships in the Star Trek universe.
Captain Clark Terrell
Terrell and Chekov, who had transferred from the Enterprise to the Reliant, were captured by Khan Noonien Singh when they were surveying the planet on which Singh and his crew had been exiled. Singh used parasitic creatures to control Terrell and force him to steal a weapon of mass destruction.
The character was portrayed by renowned actor Paul Winfield, one of the most popular and accomplished Black actors of the 70s and 80s.
The Captain of the USS Saratoga
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, featured the first Black, female captain of a Starfleet ship. Though the prequel series and movies that came out later depicted female captains that came before her in the Star Trek timeline, the captain of the Saratoga was also the first female captain at the time when the movie came out. Though the character wasn’t named, her appearance marked a momentous occasion in Star Trek history.
The unnamed captain was portrayed by the legendary actress Madge Sinclair, though she wasn’t credited in the movie.
Captain Silva LaForge
Geordi LaForge’s mother, Silva, was a character on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and she was one of the few Black women to captain their own ships. Though Captain LaForge was mentioned multiple times throughout the series, she only appeared in one episode, “Interface.” When Captain LaForge went missing, her son embarked on a mission to find out what happened.
Interestingly, LaForge was portrayed by Sinclair, the same actress who portrayed the unnamed captain of the Saratoga.
Captain Benjamin Sisko
Captain Sisko was the first Black commander, later captain, to be the lead character of a Star Trek series. Though there had been Black Starfleet captains before Sisko, they were always minor or recurring characters. Though there had been Black characters in the main cast of every previous Star Trek show, none of them had been the central character and authority figure.
Sisko commanded the space station Deep Space Nine with the Bajoran commander Kira Nerys. He was in charge of maintaining order and instilling democracy in a wartorn sector of space that quickly became one of the most crucial spots in the Alpha Quadrant.
The character was played by critically acclaimed actor Avery Brooks.
Captain Carol Freeman
Star Trek: Lower Decks was the first Star Trek show to feature a Black, female captain. Though Black female captains had been shown as minor characters before, they were never the focus of the show. That all changed with the USS Cerritos.
Captain Freeman was the protege of Commander William T. Riker when she was at Starfleet Academy. In spite of that, she was assigned to the Cerritos, a ship that specialized in second contact, rather than the much more prestigious job of establishing first contact. She commanded her ragtag crew of misfits in a firm but relatable way that made her a favorite of her crew.
The character is voiced by award-winning A Different World actress, Dawnn Lewis.
Captain Michael Burnham
Though Lower Decks gave fans the first Black, female captain as a central character, Discovery season four will be the first season of a Star Trek series that focuses entirely on a Black, female captain and her crew.
Fans of the show have watched Burnham go through a mercurial journey to the captain’s chair. She went from commander to a convicted mutineer to a specialist to a first officer to a science officer to captain within just a few years. Though those few years did span over 300 years in the Star Trek timeline.
In the upcoming season four, Burnham will finally be able to call the captain’s chair her own and fans will get to watch as she commands the Discovery.
The character is portrayed by well-known actress Sonequa Martin-Green.
Though Star Trek has always been committed to inclusivity, the franchise doubled down on that commitment in the past few years by putting the narratives of Black folks front and center. The Black captains that came before Freeman and Burnham paved the way for them to have their own ships and their own stories.