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The late Nichelle Nichols repeatedly told a story about meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who encouraged her to stay on Star Trek instead of leaving after the end of the first season.

“You cannot, and you must not,” Nichelle recalled Martin saying in her autobiography, per AJC. “Don’t you realize how important your presence, your character is? ... Don’t you see? This is not a Black role, and this is not a female role."

"You have the first non-stereotypical role on television, male or female," he continued. "You have broken ground. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people — as we should be.”

It's a great story. However, I've only heard it told by (or relayed from) Ms. Nichols herself. Has any other source ever confirmed the story?

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    Are you looking for verfication for what might have been a private conversation, or that they were friends? Nichelle and Martin remained friends until he died. Aug 24 at 19:14
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    The same can be said about any quote people ask about. This one is a bit too-good-to-be-true and too inspirational, and it's certainly notable by this site's standard (someone wrote something on twitter) so I'd say it deserves to be scrutinized.
    – pipe
    Aug 24 at 22:37
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    If, as is likely, this was a private conversation between two people, the only verification would be the memory of those two people. One of those is the source of the claim, so the only independent evidence would be a confirmation from MLK that he remembered the conversation the same way. Since he died some 25 years before Nichols wrote her autobiography, nobody would have had reason to ask him about it, so the question is only answerable if, by sheer coincidence, he wrote about or mentioned it publicly in the handful of years between the meeting and his death.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 25 at 10:31
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    I’m voting to close this question because although the claim is notable, it's almost certainly unverifiable: there is no reason to assume more than two people witnessed it, one of whom said it happened, and the other died less than a year later.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 25 at 12:18
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    @IMSoP Not necessarily; it's possible that Ms. Nichols relayed the story to an acquaintance soon after it happened. While that doesn't necessarily constitute 100% proof, it's closer than an anecdote that she's had time to fine tune over the years since she started telling it. Aug 25 at 15:40

2 Answers 2

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On July 31st, 2022 @BerniceKing tweeted:

Representation matters.

Excellence in representation matters even more.

Thank you, #NichelleNichols.
Rest well, ancestor. 🖤


An article about a very important conversation between my father and Ms. Nichols:

(ajc.com) A conversation with MLK Jr. kept Nichelle Nichols from exiting Star Trek

This is the verified Twitter account of MLK Jr.'s (youngest) daughter (and "CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change"). She was only four when Star Trek season one ended, and almost certainly wasn't there at the NAACP meeting, but being related to MLK Jr. makes her an insider.

The AJC article is, in fact, the one mentioned in the quote in the question. It may be geoblocked, but you can also read it on Archive.org.

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    Your link says At the end of the first season, Nichols recounted in her autobiography, she told the show’s creator she was done. So is this really an independent verification, or repeating what Nichelle Nichols herself wrote in the biog? Bernice King's tweet simply draws attention to the report, rather than making any verification. Aug 24 at 23:27
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    @WeatherVane At the very least this is the daughter of one of the people in question, who knew both, asserting that the story as mentioned in the autobiography is true.
    – Shadur
    Aug 25 at 4:28
  • I am not sure her being 4 at the time doesn't mean she wouldn't have gotten information on what happened at a later date. While it might not be perfect proof she could have details that can back up what was said.
    – Joe W
    Aug 27 at 16:47
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After looking into this story a bit, I am leaning toward its being made up.

My strongest reason for doubting it is that I can't find any other evidence that MLK was a fan of Star Trek. If, as Nichols said, he not only liked the show but felt that it was a crucial step forward in civil rights, then you would expect him to say so more than once. It doesn't make sense that he would urge Nichols to stay on the show—and succeed, leading to the production of a whole second season of episodes with her in them (all of which were broadcast before his death)—only to never mention the show again. But as far as I can tell, he didn't. In Wikiquote's large collection of MLK quotes, and the associated talk page which contains conversations dating back to 2006, the words "Trek" and "Uhura" don't appear, and "Nichols" appears only in a quote by her about him. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. don't mention Star Trek, Nichols, or Uhura in their indexes. A Google search for his name and Star Trek turned up nothing that didn't trace back to Nichols's story.

I also can't find evidence that Gene Roddenberry told his part of the story. As related by Nichols in her autobiography Beyond Uhura, p. 165:

When I returned to work on Monday, I went to Gene's office first thing and told him about my conversation with Dr. King and my decision to stay.

A tear came to Gene's eye, and he said, "God bless that man. At least someone sees what I'm trying to achieve."

This seems like a story that Roddenberry would love to tell—praise from MLK would be a feather in his cap—but he doesn't seem to have told it. MLK isn't mentioned in Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry.

My remaining reasons are weak, but I'll list them anyway.

The conversation wasn't private: it took place at a fundraiser at which Nichols was a celebrity guest (according to a 2010 interview), and MLK was superfamous in any case, and they were introduced by a third party. I'd expect the conversation to have been overheard and perhaps independently reported on. I'd also expect them to pose for a photo together at some point, but no photo of the two seems to exist.

At least one story detail has been inconsistent. In her autobiography she planned to leave the show because of "the cuts and the racism", while in the 2010 interview she planned to leave the show because she'd been offered a role in a Broadway-bound play, and musical theater was her first love. In both tellings it seems to be her only reason.


In favor of the story being true there are the unpleasant implications of Nichols making it up, and the tweet by Bernice King that was mentioned in Laurel's answer. I have nothing intelligent to say about the first one. As for the tweet, it looks to me as though she learned about the story in the same way as everyone else, by reading an article that retells Nichols's version. At least, I don't see anything to suggest otherwise.


The article linked in the question also says that MLK and Nichols were friends (and "remained friends until he died"). Their source for that isn't clear. As far as I can tell, it isn't true and Nichols never claimed it was. MLK is only mentioned once in her autobiography, and they definitely weren't friends at that time (she was starstruck on meeting him).

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  • Potential confirmation you overlooked: Nichols said that King said the show was the only one that his wife let their children stay up late to watch. Coretta Scott King died in 2006 and never objected to the story. In 1966, Yolanda was 11, Martin was 9, and Dexter was 5. Even putting Dexter and Bernice aside, Yolanda and Martin were certainly old enough to remember if their parents let them stay up late to watch Star Trek, and they never denied the story either. Sep 2 at 5:36
  • @KeithMorrison I left them out because I wasn't sure what could be concluded from their saying nothing about it. MLK and Roddenberry were the two whose silence seemed significant, for the reasons I stated in the answer.
    – benrg
    Sep 2 at 7:47

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