Monday, May 18, 2009

Quote of the Day: 5/18/2009

Another long quote, my second one from a memoir by a cast member of the original Star Trek series. This is Nichelle Nicol's encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King:

[Nichelle Nichols on almost leaving Star Trek]

"The following evening I attended an important NAACP fund-raising even. I was chatting with someone when a man approached and said, 'Nichelle, there is someone who would like to meet you. He's a big fan of Star Trek and of Uhura.
I turned to greet this "fan" and found myself gazing upon the face of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was stunned, and I remember thinking, Whoever that fan is, he'll just have to wait.
The man introduced us. Imagine my surprise when the first words Dr. King uttered were, "Yes, I am that fan, and I wanted to tell you how important your role is."
He began speaking of how he and his children watched Star Trek faithfully and how much they adored Uhura. At that moment the impact of my decision really struck me. Nevertheless, I replied, "Thank you, Dr. King, but I plan to leave Star Trek."
"You cannot," he replied firmly, and you must not. Don't you realize how important your presence, your character is?", he went on. "Don't you realize this gift this man has given the world? Men and women of all races going forth in peaceful exploration, living as equals. You listen to me: Don't you see? This is not a Black role, and this is not a female role. You have the first nonstereotypical role on television, male or female. You have broken ground -"
"There have been other Black stars," I countered.
"In TV?" he replied. "Yes, Beulah, Amos and Andy. Do I need to go further?"
"No," I answered softly.
"You must not leave. You have opened a door that must not be allowed to close. I'm sure you have taken a lot of grief, or probably will for what you're doing. But you changed the face of television forever. You have created a character of dignity and grace and beauty and intelligence. Don't you see that you're not just a role model for little Black children? You're more important for the people who don't look like us. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people - as we should be. There will always be role models for Black children; you are a role model for everyone.
"Remember, you are not important there in spite of your color. You are important there because of your color. This is what Gene Roddenberry has given us."
All that weekend Dr. King's words echoed in my head as I weighed every factor. Perhaps he was right: Perhaps Uhura was a symbol of hope, a role model. And if that were the case, did I not owe it another chance? Granted, Uhura's full potential had not been realized, and sadly, probably wouldn't be. But she was there, wasn't she? And that had to count for something.
When I returned to work on Monday, I went to Gene's office first things 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."

Nichelle Nichols, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. NY: Boulevard Books, 1994, p. 158-159.

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