Nichelle Nichols and Mae Jemison reunite at Star Trek Las Vegas


In a week where the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast reunited for their 30th anniversary, the best reunion was between Nichelle Nichols and Mae Jemison.

Star Trek Las Vegas is the biggest event of the year on the convention circuit, and it has the potential to bring together people from different backgrounds and interests for the cause of something they all have in common. While usually that simply means fans from around the world coming together to remember and learn about Star Trek, sometimes that can come in the form of remarkable reunions.

The cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation reunited on stage at the Rio in Vegas this weekend, but perhaps the most important reunion of all was the one between Nichelle Nichols and Mae Jemison. Nichols was a trail blazer among African American women both within Hollywood and outside of it. She was involved in the first interracial kiss on television in the United States, along with William Shatner as Captain James Kirk.

Nicholls portrayed Lieutenant Uhura, a bridge officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise, from 1966 until 1969, during a time of incredible racial unrest in the United States. After the show’s first season, she was planning to quit Star Trek in order to become a Broadway singer, her preferred career. She told Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry of her intention to quit.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. caught wind of Nicholls plans.

She spoke about what happened next in an AMA on Reddit:

"“Dr. Martin Luther King, quite some time after I’d first met him, approached me and said something along the lines of ‘Nichelle, whether you like it or not, you have become an symbol. If you leave, they can replace you with a blonde haired white girl, and it will be like you were never there. What you’ve accomplished, for all of us, will only be real if you stay.’ That got me thinking about how it would look for fans of color around the country if they saw me leave. I saw that this was bigger than just me.”"

If Nichelle Nicholls had walked away from Star Trek as she had intended, if King hadn’t persuaded her to reconsider, perhaps Mae Jemison would never have become the first African American woman in space. Jemison was born in 1962, just four years before Star Trek took its regular place on television and seven years before the series ended, but Nicholls’ societal influence was unmistakable.

Jemison was a member of the space shuttle Endeavour’s crew as a science mission specialist in 1992, and in 1993 LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge on TNG) discovered that he and Jemison had a mutual friend who told him of her love for the show and about being inspired by Nicholls as a child.

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Burton pulled some strings, and Jemison got a cameo in “Second Chances”, the 24th episode of the sixth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Jemison’s role was a speaking part, that of Lieutenant Palmer.

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