A mission from Dr. King
Lt. Uhura may have been a fictional character, but her on-screen authority in a futuristic world held immense influence at a time when Black Americans were fighting for civil rights.
As the story goes, Nichols was at an event when she was told a “Star Trek” fan wanted to meet her. “She’s thinking it’s going to be this pimply-faced kid,” comic book designer Afua Richardson recounts to Bell. “But it turned out to be Martin Luther King Jr. He said, ‘Your show is the only show that I will allow my kids to watch.’ She eventually told him that she was planning on leaving the show, and he gave a command, and he said, ‘No, you cannot leave the show, it is too important.'”
King shared with Nichols how her work was impacting generations of Black Americans who were watching her play a non-stereotypical role. Nichols took King’s words to heart, staying with “Star Trek” through its end in 1969.
Recruiting for NASA
By choosing to stay, Nichols didn’t just remain in an influential part. She set in motion a chain of events that would alter the course of history.
The same year “Star Trek” came to a close in 1969, the United States successfully landed two men on the moon. All eyes were on the future of space flight, but the growing field also had a glaring deficiency.
“There were no women, and there were no minorities in the space program — and that’s supposed to represent the whole country?” Nichols told CNN in 2014. She recalled thinking, “Not in this day and age. We just absolutely cannot have that. I can’t be a part of that.”
“Science is not a boy’s game, it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game. It’s about where we are and where we’re going,” Nichols told CNN. “Space travel benefits us here on Earth. And we ain’t stopped yet. There’s more exploration to come.”
Sheena McKenzie contributed to this report. Watch “United Shades of America” on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.