Did you know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saved Star Trek?
Okay, so maybe it’s an exaggeration to make the claim that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saved Star Trek – but this much we know, he did play a role in convincing a young (and frustrated) Nichelle Nichols to remain on the series and break barriers and racial stereotypes many Millennials and Gen-Y’ers find hard to comprehend.
This video, recorded for the Archive of American Television, captures Ms. Nichols recollections of the entire event and is well worth watching:
According to this interview in Time Magazine (and a more comprehensive re-telling in this interview with PlanetWaves.net), Dr. King had a unique perspective on Star Trek and the character of Uhura, in particular. He told Ms. Nichols that Star Trek was “the only show he allowed his children to stay up late to watch. When she told him that she was planning to leave the show, he told her that she just couldn’t: though African-Americans were making great strides toward equality, she represented one of the only examples of that equality on American television. Uhura was intelligent and beautiful and commanding and, he pointed out, a role that wasn’t specifically the role for a black woman. Her presence on that space ship showed the world that a black woman could be all of those things.”
High praise indeed for someone who came up through the entertainment business singing with bands (she was singing with Duke Ellington at 15) and performing in musical theatre. But Nichelle Nichols has lived into the breakthrough role that was hers in the 1960’s and continued her career in entertainment – as well as working in civil rights and with NASA (among other things). This biographical piece in The Guardian provides a review of her amazing career.
Ms. Nichols has also served as an inspiration to generations of women and African-American actors. In this interview with Michele Martin (on NPR’s Tell Me More), she recalls her first meeting with Whoopi Goldberg and the effect seeing Lt. Uhura on the TV had on the Academy Award-winning actress as a little girl:
I met Whoopi Goldberg when Gene was doing The Next Generation and she had told me when Star Trek came on she was nine years old and she said she turned the TV on and saw me and ran through the house screaming: Come quick, come quick. Theres a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid.
For a more comprehensive look at the impact Nichelle Nichols and the character of Lt. Uhura had on society in the 1960’s I’d recommend taking a few minutes and watching this piece from the Smithsonian Channel’s recent documentary on 50 years of Star Trek …
That’s it for today.