Star Trek is groundbreaking for so many reasons. But chief among those reasons is Nichelle Nichols. Despite the era's norms, Nichols was not only cast on the show but also placed in a prominent position on the Enterprise's bridge. Her character, Lieutenant Uhura, was featured in some of the show's most important stories. As an actress, Nichols brought poise and power to her role. As a person, she brought strength and experience to a show that might've otherwise felt unimportant.
Nichols was a pioneer, but few fans know she intended to leave Star Trek after just one season. Thirty years later, in 1998, Nichols spoke to Doug Nye of Knight Ridder News Service about the decision and what ultimately changed her mind.
"I came out of musical theater and expected to make my name on Broadway," Nichols said.
"Then along came Star Trek. After one season, I told Gene Roddenberry that I was going to leave simply as a career choice.
"Then I happened to go to a NAACP fundraiser and met Dr. Martin Luther King, who said Star Trek was one of the few shows he and Coretta allowed their little children to see. And when I told him I was going to leave the show, he said, 'You can't do that.'"
As the years passed, Nichols never regretted her decision to stay with the show and instead grew to understand just how historic her presence was.
"Whoopi Goldberg once told me that she looked at our show and said, 'Come quick, come quick! There's a black lady on television, and she ain't no maid.' Whoopi said, 'I knew right then I was going to be anything I wanted to be.'
"I'm very proud of that," Nichols said.
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