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How Did Martin Luther King Jr. Convince Nichelle Nichols to Stay in the Star Trek Franchise?

Martin Luther King Jr. was known for his immense contributions to American civil rights movements in the sixties. He was one of the most influential African-Americans that led the movement to abolish segregation through peaceful protests. Incidentally, King was also a big fan of Star Trek and convinced the actress who played Nyota Uhura to stay in the series. 

Martin Luther King Jr. bumped into Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Nyota Uhura in Star Trek. When she expressed that she wanted to quit the show, King urged her to stay because she was a role model to African-Americans.

Nyota Uhura’s Conversation with Martin Luther King Jr.

Actress Nichelle Nichols was one of the first African-American women cast as the main character in the popular television show, and the show was the famous Star Trek. She played Lt. Nyota Uhura’s character, but her time on set was not a pleasant experience.

She recounted her experiences in her autobiography that she experienced discrimination on set. Nichols found it demoralizing to have her lines always cut. She also endured racial insults off the set too. The actress also reported that the show’s executives conspired against her and kept her fan mail. By the end of the first season, she told Star Trek’s creator that she wanted to walk away from the show.

Nichols attended a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) function the next day. Her fans greeted her, and one of them was none other than Martin Luther King Jr. King, an avid fan, who told her that he and his family watched her in Star Trek, admiring her as she is the only black character in the show.

King told her that her role was crucial. Nichols thanked him, but she said she was planning to leave the show due to her negative experiences. King urged her not to leave the show. Nichols vividly remembered King saying that she could not go and must not leave the show.

King made her understand that her character and presence in the show are significant. King told her that she had broken ground because her role wasn’t a black role, nor was it a female role. He showed Nichols that she was holding the first non-stereotypical role on television. He further tells her that her role allowed the world to see them as to how they should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people, as they should be.

Their conversation led to Nichols staying on the show for two seasons. She played a voice actor for an animated version of the series and resumed her role in the subsequent Star Trek films. She even had the first interracial kiss on American television. (Source: The Atlanta Journal)

Nyota Uhura’s Impact on Others

Nichols’ decision to stay in the show greatly influenced other people. Uhura’s character was also used to recruit for NASA, inspiring Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut. Besides Jemison, Uhura also inspired several other people to pursue their dreams.

Marilyn Teague became a sign language interpreter when she was inspired by how Uhura knew how to speak several languages, playing her role as a communications officer. Tony Cade, owner of Challenges Games and Comics and the director of the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo, was inspired by Uhura, stating that he was happy to see a black character who wasn’t a criminal, a nanny, or a maid but a leader. This idea inspired him to become a leader in his field. Many people felt that Nichols’ stay in Star Trek helped hasten the normalization of blacks on screen. (Source: The Atlanta Journal)

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