IdeaFestival guest and actress Nichelle Nichols is best known for her role on Star Trek, but she serves as an icon for the civil rights movement as well. In addition to her acting and other notable achievements, she was also recruited by NASA to help recruit their first female and minority astronauts. She was interviewed by Janelle Monae and had some interesting stories to tell.
Monae asked Nichols what fascinates her about space, and she answered, "Because it's there...the vastness. We are by nature, explorers."
Nichols walked on stage to a standing ovation and spoke about how she was given the role of Uhura, the fourth in command on the Starship Enterprise. Everyone laughed as she spoke about reading for the role of Spock.
She also spoke of how she turned in notice to leave the show once, but the director asked her to take the weekend to think about it. In the meantime, she attended a dinner. Someone approached her saying that her biggest fan would like to speak to her. She assumed it was a "trekkie" fan and got up to address the person but then thought, "This trekkie will have to wait, that's Dr. Martin Luther King!"
Dr. King praised her performance and let her know what a huge fan he was. She was thankful but admitted she was leaving the show. He told her that she could not do that because that role was bigger and more important than "Nichelle Nichols as an actress". He said it was necessary to the civil rights movement. Her character was the first respectable African American role on television. Star Trek is also responsible for the first bi-racial kiss on screen.
Despite her status, she still dealt with discrimination. Nichols spoke of how she faced discrimination on the set from a guard who judged her on her color and would not let her use the cast entrance and would make her walk to the front through the lobby. The guard was removed from that post, but she ran into him ten years later and he apologized and commended her for always remaining a lady even when he was rude to her.
More information about Nichols can be found on her official website
Photo: Janelle Monae interviews Nichelle Nichols.