Today the U.S.A. celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the heroic activist for social justice -- and incidentally history's most renowned Star Trek fan. As Nichelle Nichols tells the story, she was thinking of leaving the show when she had a fateful meeting with a fan.
"One of the promoters came up and said someone wanted to meet me. He said he's my greatest fan," says Nichols, 78. "I thought it was some Trekker, some kid. I turned in my seat and there was Dr. Martin Luther King with a big smile on his face. He said, 'I am a Trekker, I am your biggest fan.'"
At that point, Nichols thought of herself as just a cast member on the show and hadn't fully grasped the racial implications of her part. She'd dealt with race all her life, of course, even on the set at Paramount, where a security guard hurled insults at her, but she hadn't grasped the importance of an African-American woman having a position of respect on TV.
Nichols thanked King and told him she was leaving the show.
"He was telling me why I could not [resign]," she recalls. "He said I had the first nonstereotypical role, I had a role with honor, dignity and intelligence. He said, 'You simply cannot abdicate, this is an important role. This is why we are marching. We never thought we'd see this on TV.'"
Nichols was at a loss for words. It was the first time the importance of being an African-American woman on television had sank in. She returned to "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry the next Monday morning and rescinded her resignation.
"He sat there and looked at me and said, 'God bless Dr. Martin Luther King. Somebody does understand me,'" Nichols says.
There has been a concerted effort to bury Dr. King's radical later years when he expanded his campaign to oppose not only racism, but also militarism and economic exploitation. When he denounced the U.S.A.'s war in Vietnam the establishment media turned on him, and to this day they do everything they can to circumscribe his legacy. So in honor of Dr. King's truly radical legacy here in its entirety is his 1967 speech, "Why I am opposed to the War in Vietnam".