This month marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. Plus tomorrow we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Breaking the Bias”. So for all you Star Trek fans, here is a story to warm your heart as we remember a woman who broke through the biases of gender and colour.
You may recall that black actress Nichelle Nicholls played the role of Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series. She was much beloved but, after a while, she decided that it really wasn’t for her. Understandably, she resented the racial jibes she often received from some of the cast and crew. So she handed in her resignation. However, her boss Gene Roddenberry begged her to take the weekend to reconsider. “Don’t you see what I am trying to do here< Nichelle?” he asked her.
That weekend she chose to go to a major rally. She hoped to be able to meet the famous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but soon she was interrupted by someone who told her that she had a fan who really wanted to meet her. Nichelle did not want to shake hands with any more Star Trek fans. She wanted to meet the great man himself. Well, you can imagine her surprise and delight when the adoring tan turned out to be King himself! He said that he and his wife were her biggest fans. In fact, they would not allow their children to stay up to watch any other TV program but Star Trek.
It was then that Nichelle told him that she had turned in her resignation. King was shocked. He urged her to reconsider and even echoed her boss’s words: “Don’t you see what he is trying to do here?” He told her that what she was doing was vital to the cause of Black Emancipation. By creating a character with “dignity and knowledge”, she had given young black girls an important role model. He then added: “When we see you, we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.”
The following Monday Nichelle went back to Roddenberry and told him she was staying. If her presence on television could provide her people with a positive image of themselves and inspire them to reach for the top, then she had no other choice but to remain and fulfill her calling.
Because King believed that Uhura’s presence on the Enterprise’s bridge was crucial to the greater Civil Rights Movement, Nichelle knew that there was nothing else she could do. As a black woman her role was an early step in breaking the bias.