Nichelle Nichols Tells Neil deGrasse Tyson How Martin Luther King Convinced Her to Stay on Star Trek

nichelle-nicholsBack in July 2011, Neil de Grasse Tyson, our favorite living physicist, spent time with Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek series (1966-1969). During the days when African-Americans were still fighting for legal equality in America, her role took on special importance. As Tyson explains, her inclusion on the Enterprise pointed to a future when Americans could live and work together, putting race aside. And Nichols made history when Lt. Uhura and Captain Kirk embraced in the first inter-racial kiss on American television.

We can partly thank Martin Luther King, Jr. for all of this. As Nichols tells Tyson in the audio below (fast forward to the 8:50 mark here or below), she gave thought to leaving Star Trek at the end of Season 1, hoping to pursue a broadway career. But MLK asked her to reconsider. A big fan of the show, Dr. King underscored the importance of her character, of what it meant to future African-Americans, of how her character, through the power of TV, was opening a door that could never be closed. Needless to say, he persuaded her to stay on the show, and the rest is glorious history.  This interview originally aired on Tyson’s podcast, StarTalk Radio Show (iTunes – Feed – Web Site).

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by | Permalink | Comments (7) |

  • iamfantastikate

    This is a great fact that I’d never heard! Thanks for sharing.

    It’s great how far we’ve come–and sad how far we have left to go.

  • Charley

    Actually: Sammy Davis Jr. & Nancy Sinatra beat the Uhura/Kirk kiss …

  • Jeffrey Simons

    Great post, Dan. Thanks for helping spread the word about this episode.

  • merridee

    Yes, the sinatra/davis,jr kiss was quick peck, not a full on lip lock in a music video. The Urhura/Kirk kiss was an intimate, hot “we’re passionate lovers” kiss. THAT is what made it daring and risky.

  • Dan Colman

    Our pleasure! It’s a really great episode.


  • June

    They never really kissed, just made it appear that way. Per an interview with both of them

  • Jeffrey Simons

    Hey Dan, I don’t know if you know this (or if you’re the right person to tell here on Open Culture), but you can actually put our free widget on your site and run our shows right here. It runs the last three shows. I don’t want to spam you, so if you want it, you can email me at or get it on our website. And my apologies if this was an inappropriate comment. That was not our intention. We love “Open Culture.” Best,