Happy 82nd birthday to actress Nichelle Nichols who made television history in the 1960s with her portrayal of “Star Trek” character Lieutenant Nyota Uhura — a breakthrough role that showed an African American woman in a position of power as the fourth in command of a starship. At the end of the first season, however, Nichols was frustrated by the show’s development and considering a move back to Broadway until she met a very special fan who convinced her how important her role on the show was — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After Nichols told Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry that she was leaving the show, he encouraged her to think it over. That weekend, she attended a fundraiser for the NAACP and met King who told her he was a “Trekkie” and “Lieutenant Uhura’s most ardent fan.” As Nichols described in an interview with the Huffington Post, when King learned that she was leaving, he urged her to stay, stating:
“‘Don’t you realize how important your presence, your character is? This is not a black role or a female role. You have the first nonstereotypical role on television. You have broken ground’… ‘Here we are marching, and there you are projecting where we’re going. You cannot leave [the show]. Don’t you understand what you mean?’ I told him that when I would go on hiatus from the show, I could come and march with him and he said, ‘No! You’re an image for us. We look on that screen and we know where we’re going.’ It was like he was saying, ‘Free at last, free at last!’”
Nichols did stay on the show with its entire run and went on to make history again in 1968 as part of the first scripted interracial kiss on TV with William Shatner, who played the show’s lead character, Captain James T. Kirk. Nichols’ groundbreaking character had a huge cultural influence, especially as a role model for many African American girls. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, has cited her as an important influence and even used Uhura’s signature line “Hailing frequencies open” during the course of her duties on the space shuttle.
To watch a wonderful short clip of an interview with Nichols about her encounter with King, visit http://bit.ly/tyL49d
If your Mighty Girl is fascinated by space, we recommend books, toys, clothing, and even room decor for budding astronauts, astronomers, and astrophysicists from toddlers to teens in our blog post, “Mighty Careers: I Want To Be An Astronaut!” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=5812
For books for children and teens about more female trailblazers in the arts, sciences, and other fields, visit A Mighty Girl’s “Role Models Biography” section at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/history-biography?cat=206
For stories about courageous girls and women of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, visit our special feature on “Top Mighty Girl Books on Civil Rights History” at http://www.amightygirl.com/mighty-girl-picks/civil-rights-history
And, for over 200 science fiction and fantasy books starring Mighty Girls, visit http://www.amightygirl.com/books/fiction/fantasy-science-fiction
Image credit: Alberto Rodriguez