Nichelle Nichols, who can be seen in tonight’s Pioneers of Television: Science Fiction (airing on PBS), spoke about Star Trek fandom and how fans “got” what Gene Roddenberry was trying to do with Star Trek.
According to Nichols, Star Trek fandom was the first one to put on conventions to meet with others who enjoyed their favorite television show. “First, it was a first,” she said. “Now, there are all kinds of conventions that celebrate their favorites, but this was the first. And so it was very, very different. And it was very honorable, you know? They loved the show. They got it. They got that Gene Roddenberry created something in the future that ‘today’ — 1966…”
At the same time that the show began its run, the United States was going through upheaval as African-Americans had begun to make their voices heard, demanding an end to segregation and racism. “Dr. King was marching,” said Nichols, “every day you’d look on the TV and people are having hoses and dogs [used on them] because they wanted to eat at a fountain — though they wanted more than that. And Dr. King was the person who was guiding that.”
Roddenberry’s show was a message that times would get better and that today’s problems would be solved. “And Gene was the person who was announcing that not only was this going to succeed, but it already has, because when the twenty-third century [arrives], see, there’s Nichelle, there’s Uhura, in the twenty-third century, communication officer, fourth in command. So it didn’t just start in the twenty-third century. It started from what you’re seeing on television every day. Men and women of the future are here now.”
Fans understood what Roddenberry was trying to do. “I’ll just tell you one of the most important things that someone said who was white,” said Nichols. “He said, ‘When discrimination, when racial discrimination was outlawed, black people weren’t the only people who were freed. We were freed, too. We were freed to care, we were freed to think and not be bound by racism, and protocol, and what our parents think.” Because a lot of parents didn’t want their kids looking at Star Trek.”