Martin Luther King Jr. and Nichelle Nichols had a very fortuitous encounter at an NAACP fund raising event in Beverly Hills after the first year of the Star Trek television show which changed not only her life but countless others. MLK was a very expansive thinker, well aware of the benefits of space exploration even at a time when African-Americans made up only a percent or two of U.S. engineering workforce. Earlier that week Nichelle had decided to leave the show and return to her roots in musical theatre. When she mentioned that to Dr. King, she says he insisted that she stay, that her role was of historical importance(see other accounts by Wall Street Journal and CNN). He convinced her to stay and millions of people of all ethnicities were exposed to the notion that a woman of color could be fourth in command of an intergalactic starship. He understood that it was more than a television show. I suppose we can speculate how clearly he envisioned from the mountain top that Nichelle would inspire people like former astronauts Mae Jemison and Charles Bolden, that Dr. Jemison would bring Star Trek into space:
A quarter of a century after Lt. Uhura boldly went where no African American had gone before, her protegee returned the favor. Before blasting into orbit aboard the Endeavour in 1992, Jemison, the first woman of color in space, called actress Nichelle Nichols to thank her for the inspiration. And then she made a promise: Despite NASA’s rigid protocol, Jemison would begin each shift with a salute that only a Trekkie could appreciate. “Hailing frequencies open,
that Charles Bolden would become the director of NASA. However, one thing we know for certain is that for just about two more years, the Director of NASA and his boss are African-American. During this time every historic accomplishment at NASA happens under
their our watch. During Black History Month this year, I’ll be tracking those historical events along with other aspects of African-American historical endeavors in both physical and virtual space.