Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a pastor, was a leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He had a profound effect on the ending of inequality between blacks and whites in America. His “I Have a Dream” speech is considered by many to be one of the best speeches in modern times. Dr. King is also the youngest male to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Dr. King used a lot of methods to combat unequal treatment of African-Americans, but one of his favorite was something you may find quite surprising: Star Trek.
Scene from the episode where Captain Kirk kisses Lieutenant Uhura in what is one of the first interracial kisses on television (below):
Yes, Dr. King was an avid Trekkie. He didn’t just like the show; he also saw it as one of the best examples of how African-Americans should be viewed by the broader society.
Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry, is a science-fiction show set in the 23rd Century. It was revolutionary, for it featured a crew made up of people of all different races. They functioned together and all were professional. The character Uhura, played by African-American woman Nichelle Nichols, starts as a lieutenant and ends up as a full commander.
At one point, Nichols decided to leave Star Trek and try out a career on Broadway. She told Gene Roddenberry she was going to leave, and he told her that she just had to stay.
“As fate would have it, I was to be a celebrity guest at, I believe, it was an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. I had just been taken to the dais, when the organizer came over and said, “Ms. Nichols, there’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he really wants to meet you.”
I stand up and turn and I’m looking for a young Star Trek fan. Instead, is this face the world knows. I remember thinking, “Whoever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader, is walking toward me, with a beautiful smile on his face.” Then this man says “Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans. We admire you greatly. And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity.”
I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”
I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now.”
I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not a Black role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”
At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said: The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.” – Nichols said.
Nichols ended up kissing Captain Kirk in what is popularly cited as the first interracial kiss on television. While it turns out that it was actually not the very first one, it is the most popular, and it is the first one that really shook mainstream society. We can all thank Dr. King for that. Later, Whoopi Goldberg, who was inspired by Nichols became the character Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even after she was a successful star, she still did guest appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation due to her childhood admiration for Nichols. This is, once again, thanks to Dr. King.
Interview with Nichelle Nichols about Dr. King convincing her to stay on Star Trek (below):
Let us remember all the wonderful things Dr. King did for our world this Monday as we take a day to celebrate his life and sacrifice.