I grew up in musical theater. To me, the highlight and the epitome of my life as a singer and actor and a dancer/choreographer was to star on Broadway. And as my popularity grew once [Star Trek] was on the air, I was beginning to get all kinds of offers. And I decided I was going to leave, go to New York and make my way on the Broadway stage. And a funny thing happened.
I went in to tell Gene Roddenberry that I was leaving after the first season, and he was very upset about it. And he said, take the weekend and think about what I am trying to achieve here in this show. You’re an integral part and very important to it. And so I said, yes, I would. And that – on Saturday night, I went to an NAACP fundraiser, I believe it was, in Beverly Hills. And 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.
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.
And I was speechless. 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 on the – 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. He says, 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.
—Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura) (source)
Yousuf Karsh: Martin Luther King, Jr. (1962)
NASA photo of Nichols taken March 24, 1977; “From the late 1970’s until the late 1980’s, NASA employed Nichelle Nichols to recruit new astronaut candidates. Many of her new recruits were women or members of racial and ethnic minorities, including Guion Bluford (the first African-American astronaut), Sally Ride (the first female American astronaut), Judith Resnik (one of the original set of female astronauts, who perished during the launch of the Challenger on January 28, 1986), and Ronald McNair (the second African-American astronaut, and another victim of the Challenger accident).” (source)