The Story of the Iconic Interracial Kiss of the ‘Star Trek’ Actress

ive here. Of all the original Star Trek characters, Spock was my favorite. But Nichelle Nichols as Uhura has had some great moments. I hope the resolution on this clip is better:

Although the hook for this piece is Nichols’ hug with William Shatner, it makes a great account of her subsequent and successful role in recruiting astronauts for NASA.

Written by Matthew Delmont, Distinguished Professor of History at Sherman Fairchild, Dartmouth College. Originally published in The Conversation

In a 1968 episode of Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols, who plays Lieutenant Uhura, closes her lips with William Shatner’s Capt. Kirk in what is widely believed to be the first kiss between a black woman and a white man on American television.

The plot of the episode is bizarre: aliens who worship the Greek philosopher Plato use telekinetic powers to force the Enterprise crew to sing, dance and kiss. At one point, the aliens forced Lieutenant Ohori and Captain Kirk into a hug. Each character tries to resist, but in the end Kirk leans back Uhura and kisses while the aliens look on gleefully.

Kissing is not romantic. But in 1968, showing a black woman kissing a white man was a bold move. The episode aired just one year after the Supreme Court’s decision Loving v. Virginia struck down state laws against interracial marriage. At the time, Gallup polls showed that less than 20% of Americans approved of such relationships.

As a civil rights and media historian, I have been fascinated by the women at the heart of this historic television moment. Casting Nichols, who died July 30, 2022, created possibilities for the most creative and community-related “Star Trek” stories.

But no less important is Nichols’ off-screen activity. She used her role on “Star Trek” to become a recruiter at NASA, pushing for a change in the space program. The arc of her career shows how diverse casting on screen can have a profound impact in the real world as well.

The victory of modern television

In 1966, “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry decided to cast Nichols to play Lieutenant Ora, a translator and communications officer from the United States of Africa. In doing so, he made Nichols the first black woman to play the lead role continuously on television.

The black press was quick to direct praise for Nichols’ leading role.

The Norfolk Journal and Guide hope it “extends its race’s foothold on the tube”.

Ebony magazine featured on its January 1967 cover and described Uhura as “the first Negro astronaut, a victory for modern television over modern NASA.”

However, the famous kiss between Ora and Kirk never happened.

After the first season of “Star Trek” ended in 1967, Nichols considered quitting after he was offered a role on Broadway. She had started her career as a singer in New York and had always dreamed of returning to the Big Apple.

But at an NAACP fundraiser in Los Angeles, I met Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nichols later recounted their interaction.

“You shouldn’t leave,” King told her. “You have opened a door that should not be allowed to close… You have changed the face of television forever. … For the first time, the world looks upon us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people.”

King went on to say that he and his family were fans of the show; She was a “hero” for his sons.

With King’s encouragement, Nichols stayed on “Star Trek” for the full three years of the original series.

Nichols’ controversial kiss occurred at the end of the third season. Nichols noted that NBC executives monitored filming closely because they were concerned about the reaction of Southern television stations and viewers.

After the episode aired, the network received an influx of messages from viewers – the majority were positive.

In 1982, Nichols told Baltimore Afro-Americans that she was enamored of the amount of attention the kiss generated, especially since her heritage was “a mixture of races that includes Egyptians, Ethiopians, Moors, Spaniards, Welsh, Cherokee, and Indians.” A blond ancestor with blue eyes or two.”

crusade space

But Nichols’ legacy will be determined by more than just a kiss.

After NBC canceled Star Trek in 1969, Nichols has had minor acting roles in two television series, “Insight” and “The DA” and will also play a lady in the 1974 blaxploitation film “Truck Turner.”

She also began to get involved in activism and education. In 1975, Nichols founded Women in Motion Inc. She has won several government contracts to produce educational programs related to space and science. By 1977, she was appointed to the board of directors of the National Space Institute, a civilian space defense organization.

That year she gave a speech at the Institute’s annual meeting. In it, she criticized the shortage of women and minorities in the astronaut corps, challenging NASA to “get down from your ivory tower for intellectual pursuit, because the next Einstein might have a black face — a female.”

Several senior NASA officials were in the audience. They invited her to lead an astronaut recruitment program for the new space shuttle program. Soon she packed her bags and began traveling across the country, visiting high schools and colleges, speaking with professional organizations and legislators, and appearing on national television shows like Good Morning America.

“The goal was to find qualified people among women and minorities, and then convince them that the opportunity was real and that it was also a duty, because that was historic,” Nichols told the Baltimore Afro-American in 1979. That sense of purpose about it myself.”

In her 1994 autobiography, Beyond Oura, Nichols noted that in the seven months before the recruitment program began, “NASA received only 1,600 applications, including fewer than 100 women and 35 minority candidates.” But by the end of June 1977, “only four months into our assignment, 8,400 applications had been submitted, including 1,649 women (a fifteen-fold increase) and an astonishing 1,000 minorities.”

Nichols’ campaign has recruited many pioneering astronauts, including Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Jon Bluford, the first African American in space, and Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space.

Nichelle Nichols speaks after the landing of the space shuttle Endeavor at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday in September 2012. AP Photo / Reed Saxon

Relentless advocate for inclusion

Her advocacy for inclusion and diversity was not limited to the space programme.

As one of the first black women in a major television role, Nichols recognized the importance of opening doors for minorities and women in entertainment.

Nichols continued to push for more power for African Americans in film and television.

“Until we blacks and minorities become not only producers, writers, and directors, but buyers and distributors, we won’t change anything,” she told Ebony in 1985. “Until we become an industry, until we control the media or at least enough to say, we will always be the drivers and the dancers.”

This story has been updated from the original version published on April 15, 2021.

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