Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols understood the power of fandom firsthand. After all, it was one Journey fan who convinced her to stay on the classic sci-fi show when she resigned from Starfleet after its first year 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 Business throughout the show’s three seasons and the many feature films that followed.
The actress — who died July 30 at age 89 — shared this story with Yahoo Entertainment during an appearance at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018. “Usually, an actor will answer [with]”Don’t tell me what to do,” Nichols recalled at the time. “But coming from him, from a true trekker, you know what they mean and how deep it goes into their heart and hits you in the same place.” (Watch our interview in the video above.)
“On this show you become better than ever,” Nichols continued, reflecting on how her decision to listen to King’s advice shaped the rest of her life. “I love the fans because they bring out so much in you.”
Had King not intervened, there is a very real possibility that Captain Kirk would have found a different translator to complete the Businesshis five-year mission. After the first season ended, Nichols informed Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, that she was leaving the series to renew her focus on her stage career. “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 inside From the Bridge. “And he asked me to stay on the show — that I was a role model for black kids and women across America … He told me I couldn’t leave: that I was part of history.” (King was assassinated a year later in 1968.)
Nichols lived long enough to meet some of the black women she inspired, including another Journey alum, Whoopi Goldberg. In 2016, the Academy Award-winning actress – who had a recurring role as advice-giving bartender Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the order of continuity, Star Trek: Picard — appeared at a 50th anniversary Las Vegas Star Trek assembly and sat with her predecessor on stage.
“You appeared on a show in a position that didn’t have a woman in the reality we were living in,” Goldberg remarked. “On top of it, you happened to be Black, which obviously came as a shock to a lot of people. But all of us little girls sitting there…we realized that you represented the future of women.” the actress told a clearly moved Goldberg.
In the wake of Nichols’ death, a number of Star Trek celebs share memories of herincluding George Takei — one of the three surviving members of the original Business crew along with William Shatner and Walter Koenig. “We lived long and prospered together,” Takei tweeted alongside a photo of him and Nichols beaming at the camera.
Shatner also shared his condolences on social media, writing that Nichols “did so much to redefine social issues both here in the US and around the world.” This is an implicit reference to the famous 1968 Journey episode, “Plato’s Children”, where Kirk and Uhura share a kiss – the first interracial kiss on any broadcast on American television.
Other members of the enlarged Star Trek The family has also published tributes to Nichols, including Kate Mulgrew, Wilson Cruz, Jonathan Frakes and politician Stacey Abrams – who is normally the president of a United Earth in his far future Journey timetable. President Joe Biden issued an official White House statement praising Nichols’ “inspiring” career.
“During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, she broke stereotypes to become the first black woman to play a major role on a television show with her groundbreaking portrayal of Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek,” White’s statement read. House. . With defining dignity and authority, he helped tell a central story that redefined scientific pursuits and discoveries. And continue that legacy by continuing to work with NASA to empower generations of Americans from all backgrounds to reach for the stars and beyond.”
Meanwhile, in a full-circle moment, two of Dr. King’s surviving children issued their own statements about how Nichols helped change tomorrow’s world for the better.
Star Trek: The Original Series currently streaming on Paramount+