Today is Martin Luther King Day, a day when Americans celebrate the life of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And today TrekMovie takes a look at how the man and his message impacted the world of Star Trek.
MLK helps Uhura
The most direct connection of Dr. Martin Luther King to Star Trek, comes in a story often told by Nichelle Nichols, about how he helped convince her to stay on The Original Series, due to how important it was that she be there. See video of her telling the story at the Star Trek 30th Anniversary special in 1996.
MLK and IDIC
Dr. King was never referenced directly on a Star Trek episode, although there was an image from the civil rights movement that appeared in the ‘restored’ timeline at the end of the Temporal Cold War in the Enterprise episode "Storm Front, Part 2." Regardless, the philosophy of IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations) flows through the over four decades of Star Trek.
Timeline restored – along with Civil Rights movement in "Cold Front, Part 2"
The issues of civil rights and racism were confronted head on, starting back with The Original Series, which began during the civil rights era. As noted by Nichelle Nichols, the casting of the show itself embodied Dr. King’s message of equality. In addition to the main cast, people of color were regularly cast in guest roles, often in positions of respect or authority. Issues of race and equality were regular themes in Star Trek and The Original Series is also cited for breaking ground for having the TV’s first interracial kiss, in the episode "Plato’s Stepchildren." The episode that most overtly took on the subject was "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" which showed the futility of fighting over race.
Scene mocking racism in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
Messages of equality and the struggle for civil rights continued in future incarnations of Trek both in storylines and in casting. Later shows brought in an African American (Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko in DS9) and a woman (Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway in Voyager) as Star Trek captains. Many episodes in the post TOS years confronted the issues of racism and equality, such as DS9’s "Far Beyond the Stars" to Enterprise’s "Stigma." Trek even tackled the notion of ‘sentient rights’ for androids and holograms in TNG’s "Measure of a Man" and Voyager’s "Author, Author."
Trek tackles what makes a man in "Measure of a Man"
This week the United States will be inaugurating not only its first Trekkie president, but its first African-American president, Barack Obama, who once said "I grew up on Star Trek. I believe in the final frontier." Perhaps President-elect Obama was one of those children of the 60s that Dr. King spoke to Nichelle about — one of those kids who saw in Star Trek a future that was truly the fulfillment of his dream that one day people would be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."