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Martin Luther King Jr convinced Nichelle Nichols not to quit Star Trek

Find out how Nichelle Nichols was convinced not to quit as Uhura in Star Trek the Original Series by American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Search for Spock

Nichelle Nichols was convinced to stick with Star Trek by Martin Luther King Jr, after she had considered quitting the sci-fi series. Over the course of the first Star Trek series and the six TOS-era Star Trek movies, Nichelle Nichols starred as legendary Star Trek character Uhura.

Her role in the franchise was ground-breaking at the time as it positioned Uhura, a black woman, as an equal alongside her peers. In the ’60s when Star Trek first debuted, this was something which had almost never been seen before, and its optimism for the future garnered a lot of fans.

These included Martin Luther King Jr, who remains one of the most prominent and defining leaders of the civil rights movement in American history. When Nichols wanted to leave Star Trek to continue her career elsewhere, it was King who told her not to.

Speaking with NPR, Nichols recalled how their encounter played out when she was at a fundraiser. “One of the promoters came over to me and said, ‘Ms. Nichols, there’s someone who would like to meet you. He says he is your greatest fan,'” Nichols began.

“And I’m thinking a Trekker, you know. And I turn, and before I could get up, I looked across the way and there was the face of Dr. Martin Luther King smiling at me and walking toward me. And he started laughing. By the time he reached me, he said, ‘Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan. I am that Trekkie.'”

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She continued, “He complimented me on the manner in which I’d created the character. I thanked him, and I think I said something like, ‘Dr. King, I wish I could be out there marching with you.’ He said, ‘No, no, no. No, you don’t understand. We don’t need you [to] march. You are marching. You are reflecting what we are fighting for.’ So, I said to him, ‘Thank you so much. And I’m going to miss my co-stars.'”

“And his face got very, very serious. And he said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I said, ‘Well, I told Gene just yesterday that I’m going to leave the show after the first year because I’ve been offered…’ and he stopped me and said: ‘You cannot do that.’ And I was stunned. He said, ‘Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen… Do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch?’ I was speechless.”

Star Trek Nichelle Nichols as Uhura

King’s encounter with Nichols convinced her to remain on Star Trek, seeing how her role resonated with African Americans across the country who were still struggling and fighting to be seen as equals. It’s a stark reminder that culture can shape attitudes, and having Uhura alongside the rest of the cast cemented her as a symbol of what the civil rights movement was fighting for.

Throughout its history, Star Trek has always been at its best when confronting social issues and providing an optimistic vision of the future. And, as it turned out, Martin Luther King agreed.

Nichelle Nichols died in 2022, leaving behind an immense legacy.