Back 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).