Where no man or woman has gone before.
An Equal Role
In 1967, Star Trek‘s first season had ended and Nichols was ready to leave the show, but a chat with Martin Luther King, Jr. changed that.
One of the few shows the Kings watched as a family, the civil rights leader urged the actress to stay on in her role saying, “You are our image of where we’re going, you’re 300 years from now, and that means that’s where we are and it takes place now. Keep doing what you’re doing, you are our inspiration [….] Don’t you understand for the first time we’re seen as we should be seen. You don’t have a black role. You have an equal role.”
In the third season, Nichols would become a part of history, not just on TV but for race relations in the United States as well: She shard an onscreen kiss with William Shatner.
Though it was not the first onscreen interracial kiss on American television—an accomplishment made by The Wild Wild West and I Spy between a white actor and an Asian actress, both in 1966—it was the first scripted kiss between black and white actors, preceded only by an impromptu kiss shared by Sammy Davis, Jr. and Nancy Sinatra on Movin’ with Nancy in 1967.
This truly was a new frontier.
Nichols would later say that they “received a huge response” from the episode. “We received one of the largest batches of fan mail ever, all of it very positive, with many addressed to me from girls wondering how it felt to kiss Captain Kirk, and many to him from guys wondering the same thing about me. However, almost no one found the kiss offensive.”
There was, however, a letter from one white Southern man who wrote, “I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain’t gonna fight it.”
Regardless of the anxiety NBC executives had felt prior to releasing the episode, it has since gone down in history as a pivotal moment in American TV history, as well as a confirmation of how Star Trek both challenged and changed race relations in the US, true to Roddenberry’s dream.
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