Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek Actress & NASA Recruiter
Nichelle Nichols on her groundbreaking 'Star Trek' role, a vital encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr. and NASA recruitment.
NICHELLE NICHOLS: We would rehearse, and it would be a beautiful scene. And then they'd bring down the rewrites, and I had less to say. What would start out to be a beautiful participation became yes sir, no sir, and I can't reach Starfleet Command, sir.
I get a phone call from my agent. They want you down at the audition. They gave me the script. I had no idea what it's about. It was three characters, somebody named Bones, somebody named Kirk, somebody named Spock. I looked at it and, oh, really good scene.
Uhura was an interesting character to me, and I fell in love with her. She will take no nonsense from anyone. And she is a professional. The character was so strong, people from the south have told me that they were forbidden to watch the show because it was integrated.
There was a scene that changed the face of television forever. We were being forced by these people who had tremendous kinetic powers to do their bidding. And the scene culminated in them forcing Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura to kiss.
Bill Shatner was just delighted. He said, I knew I'd get you in my arms one day. And so we did eight takes because Bill kept saying, it doesn't feel right. I think-- maybe I'm holding her-- are you getting a good shot? That is how the first interracial kiss happened on TV.
So I was thinking about leaving the show. As fate would have it, I had been invited as a celebrity guest. I believe it was an NAACP fundraiser. And so I had just sat down at the dais when one of the promoters-- organizers came over and said, Miss Nichols, there's someone who wants to meet you. He says he's your greatest fan. And I'm thinking it's a Trekker.
So I went to turn around and look straight in the face of Dr. Martin Luther King, who has this beautiful smile on his face. He said, Uhura is more than just a communications officer. You're a symbol. The work you are doing, you may not know how important it is, but we who are fighting the good fight stop and watch you on Thursday night when you're on.
I went everywhere to recruit. I went to universities that had strong science and engineering programs. I was a guest at NORAD where no civilian had gone before. They were all Trekkers. They let me in.
At the end of the recruitment, NASA had so many qualified people-- highly qualified. They took six women. They took three African American men. It was a very fulfilling accomplishment for me.