The most prominent civil rights leader in US history was a Trekkie, and a big reason why was the character of Lieutenant Uhura, played by NIchelle Nichols. Here’s the story of how Dr. King convinced Nichols to stay on the show when she had plans to leave.
Star Trek’s Uhura Reflects On MLK Encounter (NPR’s Tell Me More)
There are lots of stories we could tell about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy today, but the one that best fits with our show is his connection to Star Trek.
Yes, the most prominent civil rights leader in US history was a Trekkie – and a big reason why was the character of Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols.
“Star Trek” aired at a time when women of color didn’t have much power.
But on the USS Enterprise, Uhura was a top officer, who was respected and trusted by her colleagues.
Nichelle Nichols was an accomplished performer even before Star Trek, who’d sang with bands led by Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton.
And as the show became more popular she started getting more and more offers, including some that would help her realize her dream of performing on Broadway.
So she told the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, she was going to leave Star Trek at the end of the first season.
Roddenberry wanted to keep Nichols on the show, and asked her to at least think about her decision over the weekend.
That weekend Nichols took part in a fundraiser for the NAACP.
She said while she was there, an organizer asked her to meet one of her biggest fans.
That wasn’t an unusual request for a TV star, but in this case, that biggest fan turned out to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He praised her portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura and her acting skills, and she said thank you, and said she was really going to miss the rest of the cast after she left.
When Dr. King heard Nichols was planning to leave Star Trek, he said, you can’t do that.
He said Black families all over the country were tuning in to see a Black character as she should be seen.
King said “Star Trek” was the only show he and his wife, Coretta, let their kids stay up and watch.
Nichols decided to stay, and played Uhura on the show, and later, in movies.
Fitting that a communications officer would send such an important message.