Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was A Star Trek Fan?
Actress Nichelle Nichols, most prominently known for her role as Lieutenant Uhura (which was reprised by Zoe Saldana in the 2009 film) in the famed Star Trek series, shared about the influences on her career. (Did you know she wanted to leave the show after one year because of her dream of taking the Broadway stage?)
While promoting the second season of PBS’s Pioneers of Television, Nichols says she only took the role on the sci-fi thriller because she thought it would be a nice addition to her resume, boosting her all the way to the world-renowned stage. After deciding it wasn’t getting her anywhere, she was ready to walk away from the starship Enterprise.
That is, until she had a chance meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a NAACP event. According to Yahoo, he was introduced as her biggest fan, and spoke to her about the significance of her role in the show.
He said what [series creator] Gene Roddenberry had done was to establish who we were in the 23rd century,” she said. Nichols’ role as Uhura, first a bridge officer and later promoted to lieutenant, was one of the first non-servant roles played by an African-American woman on TV.
King told Nichols that not only was he an admirer of Roddenberry’s groundbreaking show, but it was the only show he and his wife would allow their three young children to watch. And more important, it was helping to change the world. Nichols says he told her: “You are part of history, and it’s your responsibility, even though it wasn’t your career choice.”
Of course, she continued the role after this meeting, and it eventually led to this historic TV moment.
Years later, Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut in space, says Nichols was her inspiration.
Stories like this one show our responsibilities to our communities are often of greater importance than our own plans (and may yield greater rewards). Young, impressionable minds are always watching.
The second season of Pioneers of Television will debut on PBS in 2011.