Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols’ iconic interracial kiss story

Yves gentlemen. Of all the characters in the original Star Trek, Spock was my favorite. But Nichelle Nichols had some great moments as Uhura. I wish the resolution of this clip was better:

Although the hook for this article is Nichols’ groundbreaking kiss with William Shattner, it provides an excellent account of her later successful role in NASA astronaut recruiting.

Matthew Delmont, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History at Dartmouth College. Originally posted on Talk

UN 1968 episode or Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols playing the lieutenant. Uhura locked her lips with William Shatner’s captain. Kirk in what many consider to be the first kiss between a black woman and a white man on American television.

The plot of the episode is bizarre: aliens worshiping the Greek philosopher Plato use telekinetic powers to make the crew of the Enterprise sing, dance and kiss. At some point, the aliens force the lieutenant. Uhura and the captain. hug Kirk. Each character tries to resist, but eventually Kirk leans Uhura back and they kiss while the aliens look at them lustfully.

The kiss is not romantic. But in 1968, showing a black woman kissing a white man was a bold move. The episode aired just a year after the U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia’s decision struck down state laws against interracial marriages. At the time, Gallup polls showed that less than 20% of Americans approve of such relationships.

As civil rights and media historian, I was fascinated by the woman at the center of this iconic television moment. casting Nichols, who died July 30, 2022 created opportunities for more creative and socially meaningful Stories from Star Trek.

But just as significant is Nichols’ off-screen activism. She used her role on Star Trek to become a recruiter for NASA, where she pushed for change in the space program. Her career shows how diverse screen casting can have a profound effect on the real world as well.

“The Triumph of Modern Television”

In 1966, Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry decided to cast Nichols as Lieutenant. Uhura, translator and public relations specialist from the United States of Africa. In doing so, he made Nichols the first black woman to play a regular starring role on television.

The black press was quick to praise Nichols’ pioneering role.

The Norfolk Journal and Guide hoped it would “expand her race’s foothold on the subways”.

Ebony magazine featured Nichols. on the January 1967 coverand described Uhuru as “the first Negro astronaut, the triumph of modern television over modern NASA”.

But the famous kiss between Uhura and Kirk was almost non-existent.

After the completion of the first season of Star Trek in 1967, Nichols considered quitting after being offered a role on Broadway. She began her singing career in New York and always dreamed of returning to the Big Apple.

But at an NAACP fundraiser in Los Angeles, she ran into Martin Luther King Jr.

Later Nichols will talk about their interaction.

“You mustn’t leave” King told her. “You have opened a door that cannot be allowed to close… you have changed the face of television forever. … For the first time, the world sees us as we should be, equal, intelligent people.”

King went on to say that he and his family were fans of the show; She was “hero” for their children.

With support from King, Nichols stayed on Star Trek for all three years of the original series.

Nichols’ scandalous kiss occurred at the end of the third season. Nichols remembered that NBC executives were watching the shoot closely because they were nervous about how Southern networks and viewers would react.

After the episode aired, the network did receive a flood of emails from viewers. and most were positive.

In 1982, Nichols told an African-American woman from Baltimore that she was amused by the amount of attention the kiss generated, especially as her own ancestry was “a mixture of races that includes Egyptians, Ethiopians, Moors, Spaniards, Welsh, Cherokee Indians, and Native Americans.” Cherokee.” a blond, blue-eyed ancestor or two.”

space crusader

But Nichols’ legacy will be defined by much more than a kiss.

After NBC canceled Star Trek in 1969, Nichols played minor roles in two television series:In sight” as well as “district attorney“She will also play madam in a 1974 film about black exploitation.”Truck Turner“.

She also began to engage in activism and education. In 1975, Nichols founded Women in Motion Inc. and has won several government contracts to create educational programs related to space and science. By 1977 she was appointed to the board of directors National Space Institutean organization to protect the interests of civil space.

That same year, she gave a speech at the institute’s annual meeting. In it, she criticized the lack of women and minorities in the cosmonaut corps. NASA challenge “come down the ivory tower of intellectual quest because the next Einstein might have a black face and she’s a woman.”

Several of NASA’s senior leaders were in the room. They invited her to lead the astronaut recruitment program for the new space shuttle program. She soon packed her bags and began to travel the country, attending high schools and colleges, speaking to professional organizations and lawmakers, and appearing on national television programs such as Good Morning America.

“The goal was to find skilled professionals among women and minorities and then convince them that the opportunity is real and that it is also a duty because it was a historic event,” Nichols said in an interview with Baltimore Afro-American in 1979. it is purposefulness towards oneself.”

In his 1994 autobiography, “Behind UhuraNichols recalled that in the seven months before the recruitment program began, “NASA received only 1,600 applications, including fewer than 100 from women and 35 from minority candidates.” But by the end of June 1977, “only four months after we began our task, 8,400 applications had been submitted, including 1,649 applications from women (an increase of fifteen times) and an astonishing 1,000 applications from minorities.”

The Nichols campaign featured several pioneering astronauts, including Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Guyon Blueford, the first African American woman in space, and Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space.

Nichelle Nichols speaks after Space Shuttle Endeavor lands at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, September 2012. AP Photo/Reed Saxon

Relentless Advocacy for Inclusion

Her advocacy of inclusion and diversity was not limited to the space program.

As one of the first black women to star in television, Nichols understood the importance of opening doors for minorities and women in entertainment.

Nichols continued to press for African Americans to have more power in film and television.

“Until we blacks and minorities become not only producers, writers and directors, but also buyers and distributors, we will not change anything.” she said ebony in 1985. “Until we become an industry, until we control the media, or at least have a voice, we will always be chauffeurs and tap dancers.”

This story has been updated since original version published April 15, 2021

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