"For all we know, at this very moment, somewhere far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us."
Benny was an African-American science fiction writer and ex-naval serviceman living in 1950s New York City who wrote in the Incredible Tales magazine. The editor, Douglas Pabst, and the owner of the magazine were reluctant to reveal that Russell was African-American, at a time when racism was prevalent in the United States of America. His greatest work chronicled the adventures of a black captain who commands a space station, a work which was based on a drawing by Roy Ritterhouse.
Benny was determined to see the story published despite the opposition to its subject and the racial identity of its author. Benny's friends including his fiancée Cassie and friend Willie Hawkins and especially Jimmy, believed he was wasting his time because white society would not accept or read stories by a black American author of science fiction. Russell cited the works of other influential African-American authors of the time, such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright, as evidence that the occasional black voice would be heard.
Even so, his story was never published and the terrible disappointment, as well as a physical assault, lead to his eventual commitment to a psychiatric hospital for treatment for a delusional breakdown. In Sisko's mind, the Pah-wraiths tried to deter him from opening the Orb of the Emissary by making him think that Sisko was Benny, writing out his actions on his room walls. Dr. Wykoff tried to have him paint over the writings, making Sisko bury the Orb. Ezri Dax was able to remind Sisko of his promise to Jadzia as Benny finished the story, opening the box. (DS9: "Far Beyond the Stars", "Shadows and Symbols")
Benny Russell, like Ben Sisko, was played by actor Avery Brooks.
According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, there was some talk that the final scene of "What You Leave Behind" would be Benny Russell sitting outside a sound stage holding a script that read "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," essentially making the series, and all of Star Trek, a dream.
Interestingly, Jerome Bixby - a real science fiction writer to whom a later Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode entitled "The Emperor's New Cloak" (the mirror universe where that the episode takes place was introduced in "Mirror, Mirror", one of four TOS episodes which he wrote) was dedicated - reportedly used the pen names "Albert Russell" and "J. Russell".
In the Deep Space Nine Millennium book trilogy, the Pah-wraiths play off Sisko's fears that Benny Russell is real and that he himself is imaginary, by trapping Sisko in a Pah-Wraith hell where he is given visions that Benny is sitting in his Harlem apartment writing about Benjamin Sisko's adventures.
In the novel Unity, Elias Vaughn has an Orb experience in which he becomes part of the Benny Russell setting; Sisko's communication with the Prophets is portrayed as Benny becoming a "trusty" at the psychiatric hospital from the Pah-Wraith's vision.