Star Trek: How Martin Luther King Jr. Saved Uhura – News Today

Star Trek: How Martin Luther King Jr. Saved Uhura

Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, but she would have left the show were it not for Martin Luther King Jr.

Uhura Nichelle Nichols and MLK


  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek because he recognized the cultural significance of the show in shaping the future and saw the character of Uhura as a symbol of dignity.
  • Nichols realized the importance of Star Trek and the power she had to change the world after King explained that the show portrayed black Americans as intelligent, quality, and beautiful people who could excel in various roles.
  • The impact of Nichols as Uhura can be seen in the inspiring African-American female characters that followed, such as Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Michael Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery, as well as her work with NASA to recruit women and people of color.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. felt Star Trek‘s Lieutenant Uhura was so important that he personally intervened to prevent actress Nichelle Nichols from leaving the show. It can’t be overstated how groundbreaking the character of Lieutenant Uhura really was in social terms. This was the height of the civil rights movement when Star Trek: The Original Series was on the air, with the battle for racial equality raging across the United States. Just a year earlier, in 1965, Malcolm X had been assassinated, after all.

When viewers began to tune in to a science-fiction TV series called Star Trek, that show featured a black woman in a prominent on-screen (if only a supporting) role. What’s more, Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura got to share the first ever inter-racial kiss on American television. But Nichols herself wasn’t all that focused on Star Trek; she planned to quit after the first season since she was more interested in a Broadway career, and Nichelle wasn’t satisfied with Uhura’s limited role. Nichols went so far as to tell Gene Roddenberry of her plans. He was devastated but asked Nichols to take time to think it over. The very next day, she met Martin Luther King Jr.

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How Martin Luther King Convinced Nichelle Nichols To Stay In Star Trek

Dr. King made Nichols see how important Uhura is.

Nichelle Nichols was attending an NAACP fundraiser where she was told there was a big fan who wanted to meet her. To her surprise, she turned around and found herself faced with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As she explained in a TV Academy interview, Dr. King told her that Star Trek was the only show he and his wife Corretta would allow their three children to stay up and watch. King fully understood the cultural significance of Star Trek, and he believed Roddenberry’s series was truly shaping the future. He viewed the character of Uhura as one with a tremendous amount of dignity. Because of Martin Luther King Jr.’s comments, Nichols’ chose to remain on the series.

Nichols recalled that she told Martin Luther King Jr. she wished she could be on the marches with him, but he waved away the comment. “No, no, no,” Nichols remembered him saying, “No, you don’t understand. We don’t need you to march. You are marching. You are reflecting what we are fighting for. In the face of such praise, Nichols had no choice but to tell him the truth – that she was planning to leave the cast of Star Trek. His response astounded her.

“He said, ‘Don’t you understand what this man [Roddenberry] 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 and dance, yes, but who can go into space, who can be lawyers and teachers, who can be professors — who are in this day, yet you don’t see it on television until now.'”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that Roddenberry had opened a door for black Americans, but he feared that this door could be closed If Nichols left, she would be replaced – and it could be by anybody, even an alien. Nichols’ world was turned on its head, as she suddenly realized the importance of Star Trek and the power she had to help change the world. A few days later, she spoke to Gene Roddenberry and told him she had decided to stay. She also told him what King had said, and she recalled Roddenberry’s response. “God bless Dr. Martin Luther King,” he declared. “Somebody knows where I’m coming from.”

Star Trek Continues To be Inspired By Uhura

Nichelle Nichols has an incredible legacy

Nichelle Nichols’ impact as Lt. Uhura is evident by the women and characters she inspired. Whoopi Goldberg cites Uhura and Star Trek as the reasons why she wanted a role in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she played Guinan. Uhura opened the door to incredible African-American female characters to become Star Trek leads, such as Sonequa Martin-Green, the first Black female to headline a Star Trek series as Captain Michael Burnham of Star Trek: Discovery. Dawnn Lewis and Tawny Newsome voice the Black mother-daughter duo of Captain Carol Freeman and Lt. Beckett Mariner on Star Trek: Lower Decks. Meanwhile, Michelle Hurd plays the complex and resilient Commander Raffi Musiker on Star Trek: Picard.

Star Trek also led to Nichelle Nichols’ work with NASA, where she helped recruit women and people of color into the space agency.

J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies cast Zoe Saldana as Lt. Uhura, giving her a first name – Nyota – and more depth than Star Trek: The Original Series afforded Nichelle Nichols. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is now making Nyota Uhura an even richer character. The younger Uhura played by Critics Choice Award nominee Celia Rose Gooding finally explores Nyota’s compelling backstory and her empowerment to connect the crew of the USS Enterprise. Uhura has also saved the Enterprise on multiple occasions. Star Trek and generations of fans owe Dr. Martin Luther King a debt for helping Nichelle Nichols see the eternal importance of Lt. Uhura.

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