Brock Peters, 1927-2005

Actor Brock Peters, best known for his role as Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape in the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird, died Tuesday in Los Angeles of pancreatic cancer; he was 78.

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In addition to To Kill a Mockingbird, Peters appeared also in Soylent Green, a film adaptation of the opera Porgy and Bess, the miniseries Roots: The Next Generation and numerous other roles.

In recent years he was best known as Benjamin Sisko’s father Joseph in a frequent rôle on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Earlier he had also been cast as Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home; then, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country the character was given more depth, made strongly xenophobic and ultimately criminal. It is Cartwright in STVI that declares the Klingons the “alien trash of the galaxy”; Peters, as a black actor, found the line very difficult, and it took multiple takes to complete. Nonetheless, in a movie about overcoming old prejudice and enmity, he understood the significance of his character uttering such repugnant sentiments. (Later in the movie, Nichelle Nichols flatly refused to say the line, “Guess who’s coming to dinner,” and it was assigned to Walter Koenig instead.)

A fine actor, and a sad loss. Rest in peace, Mr. Peters.

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