Thursday, January 15, 2015

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, the Man who Kept Nichelle Nichols on "Star Trek"!





Though the national Martin Luther King, Jr. Day isn't until this coming Monday, today is the celebrated civil rights crusader's actual birthday.  The Nobel Peace Prize winner was born on January 15, 1929, and today would have been his 86th birthday.  One of our favorite stories about this important leader is the one that has entered into TV legend, namely how he persuaded actress Nichelle Nichols to stay in her role of Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek.


Nichelle was and is a broadly talented actress-singer-dancer who had been considering accepting an offer to return to Broadway.  Star Trek had just completed its first season on-air and though Nichols loved playing Lt. Uhura she was also tempted by the opportunity to do NYC theater again.  She was close to announcing her decision to leave the series to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry when she attended an NAACP fundraiser.  (I haven't read any specific date for the event, though the first season of Star Trek was over -- whether that means TV season airing-wise or filming-wise I am not sure.  Once source says it was in Fall of 1967.)

What happened at that fundraiser and most importantly who Nichelle Nichols met at that event changed Star Trek history.  There are numerous accounts of the momentous occasion around, all telling of the time that a devoted Star Trek fan who also just happened to be the most important human rights campaigner in the U.S. was able to persuade an ambitious actress that she was already in the most perfect place imaginable.  Here is one version with footage of Gene Roddenberry and Nichelle:



Here's Nichelle telling it again at the Pioneer Women of Television in 2011:





Rather than paraphrase the story, we're going to link to several of the wonderful stories about the Martin Luther King, Jr. meets Nichelle Nichols moment in time.  Here is a short version on the PBS Pioneers of Television website, click here; The Wall Street Journal did a story, click here; NPR did a segment on their Tell Me More show, click here: Nichelle did an interview with awesome astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on Dr. King's influence on her, click here:  SpinOff Online did a great article, click here; and here's Forbes' version of the story, click here:

Each time one hears the story it's an inspiration and affirmation that Star Trek is truly one of the most important television series ever, for a plethora of reasons that continue to be revealed as the years go by.  The lasting impact of especially those original 79 episodes will continue forever.

We celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the time he helped Nichelle Nichols understand her place in history.  May the spirit of Star Trek live on!

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