Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a big influence on Star Trek‘s original series, which ran from 1966-1969. In fact, he convinced Nichelle Nichols to not quit her role as Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek.
In an 2011 interview with StarTrek.com, Nichols recounted the time that Dr. King convinced her to rescind the resignation letter she’d given to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
“When I told Gene [Roddenberry], I walked away, and as far as I was concerned it was a fait accompli,” she said. “Remember, I grew up in musical theater. I belonged to the theater, not to television or movies. Those were things I did when I hadn’t quite made it where I wanted to go, but was on my way. I had quite a lot going for me. I had no idea of the power of being on a screen and people seeing you weekly. But I was ready to go. As nice as this little part was, and I loved the people and I loved working on it, and I was getting experience in a new medium, I didn’t think twice about [leaving].”
Later in the interview, Nichols recounts attending an event where Dr. King told her he was her biggest fan. “One of the organizers of the event came over to me and said, ‘Ms. Nichols, I hate to bother you just as you’re sitting down to dinner, but there’s someone here who wants very much to meet you. And he said to tell you that he is your biggest fan,'” Nichols said. “I said, ‘Oh, certainly,’ I stood up and turned around and who comes walking over towards me from about 10 or 15 feet, smiling that rare smile of his, is Dr. Martin Luther King. I remember saying to myself, ‘Whoever that fan is, whoever that Trekkie is, it’ll have to wait because I have to meet Dr. Martin Luther King.’ And he walks up to me and says, ‘Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan.’ I was so stunned.”
He told Nichols how much the show meant to him personally and how it was the only show he and his Coretta would let their kids stay up to watch. After all the praise, Nichols had to tell Dr. King that she was leaving the show.
“He said, ‘What are you talking about?'” the actress explained. “I told him. He said, ‘You cannot.’ He said, ‘Don’t you see what this man [Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry] is doing, who has written this? This is the future. He has established us as we should be seen. Three hundred years from now, we are here. We are marching. And this is the first step. When we see you, we see ourselves, and we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.’ He goes on and I’m looking at him and my knees are buckling. I said, ‘I…, I…’ And he said, ‘You turn on your television and the news comes on and you see us marching and peaceful, you see the peaceful civil disobedience, and you see the dogs and see the fire hoses, and we all know they cannot destroy us because we are there in the 23rd century.’
Right then and there Nichols was convinced to go and get her job back.
“That’s all it took,” she continued. “I went back on Monday morning and told Gene what had happened. He sat there behind that desk and a tear came down his face, and he looked up at me. I said, ‘Gene, if you want me to stay, I will stay. There’s nothing I can do but stay.’ He looked at me and said, ‘God bless Dr. Martin Luther King. Somebody truly knows what I am trying to do.’ [Roddenberry] opened his drawer, took out my resignation and handed it to me. He had torn it to pieces. He handed me the 100 pieces and said, ‘Welcome back.’”