Nichelle Nichols recalls how Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her not to quit ‘Star Trek’

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Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols understood the power of fandom firsthand. After all, it was a trek fan who convinced her to stick with the classic sci-fi show when she tendered her resignation from Starfleet after the first year of The original series aired between 1966 and 1967. And not just any fan: pioneering civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is why Nichols’ communications officer, Lt. Uhura, stayed on the bridge of the USS Company during three seasons of the show, and the many feature films that followed.

The actress – who died on July 30 at age 89 – shared that story with Yahoo Entertainment during an appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2018. “Normally an actor will respond [with]”Don’t tell me what to do,” Nichols recalled at the time. “But when you come from him, from a real Trekker, you just know what they mean and how deep it goes into their hearts and it hits you in the same place.” (Watch our video interview above.)

“You’re going to be a better you than ever on that show,” Nichols continued, reflecting on how her decision to follow King’s advice shaped the rest of her life. “I love the fans because they bring out so much in you.”

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If King had not intervened, there is a very real chance that Captain Kirk would have had to find another translator to Company‘s five-year mission. After the first season ended, Nichols . inquired Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, that she left the series to focus on her stage career again. “I wanted to go to Broadway,” she confirmed in a scene from the 2018 documentary, From the bridge.

But those plans changed after Nichols had her fateful close encounter with King at an NAACP event. “He told me he was my biggest fan,” she recalled in From the bridge. “And he asked me to please stay on the show — that I was a role model for black children and women all over America… He told me I couldn’t leave: that I was part of history.” (King was murdered a year later in 1968.)

Nichols lived long enough to meet some of the black women she inspired, including another trek alum, Whoopi Goldberg. In 2016, the Oscar-winning actress — who had a recurring role as advisory bartender, Guinan, on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the sequel series, Star Trek: Picard appeared at a 50th anniversary in Las Vegas Star Trek convention and sat on the podium with her predecessor.

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“You appeared on a show in a position a woman didn’t have in the reality we lived in,” Goldberg noted. “Plus, you happened to be black, which apparently came as a shock to a lot of people. But all of us little girls sitting there… realized you represent the future of women.” Nichols took the compliment to heart: “When I met you, I said, ‘I met my twin brother,'” the said. actress a clearly moved Goldberg.

In the wake of Nichols’ passing, a number of Star Trek stars have shared memories of herincluding George Takei — one of the three surviving members of the original Company crew alongside William Shatner and Walter Koenig. “We lived long and thrived together,” Takei wrote on Twitter alongside a photo of him and Nichols beaming into the camera.

Shatner also shared his condolences on social media, writing that Nichols has done “so much to redefine social issues both here in the US and around the world.” That’s a tacit reference to the famous 1968 trek episode, “Plato’s Children,” in which Kirk and Uhura share a kiss – the first interracial kiss to air on US television.

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Other members of the extended Star Trek family have also paid tribute to Nichols, including Kate Mulgrew, Wilson Cruz, Jonathan Frakes and politician Stacey Abrams – who is canonically the president of a United Earth in the distant future of the trek timeline. President Joe Biden has praised Nichols’ “inspiring” career in an official statement from the White House.

“During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, she shattered stereotypes to become the first black woman to star on a primetime television show with her groundbreaking portrayal of Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek,” the White House statement reads. . . With distinctive dignity and authority, she helped tell a central story that reshaped scientific pursuits and discoveries. And she continued this legacy by partnering with NASA to enable generations of Americans of all backgrounds to reach for the stars and beyond.”

Meanwhile, two of Dr. King’s surviving children have come full circle to make their own statements about how Nichols helped change tomorrow’s world for the better.

Star Trek: The Original Series is currently streaming on Paramount+