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Star Trek: The Original Series' surprising role in US civil rights

Google features a doodle for Star Trek: The Original Series – a nod to one of the most progressive television shows of its era. 

By Matthew Shaer / September 7, 2012

The Google logo today pays homage to the legendary TV show Star Trek: The Original Series.

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The Google on Friday depicts cartoon versions of the crew of the Starship Enterprise – an homage to the legendary television show Star Trek: The Original Series, which celebrates its 46th anniversary on Saturday. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Google designer Ryan Germick said he intended the doodle (pictured above) to be the ultimate geek homage. 

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"For me, [Star Trek] was a vision for the future," Germick said. "I think it was also that it was multicultural, pro-science, and full of curiosity and passion. I think like a lot of good science-fiction, it sort of says a lot about its present era. We can really appreciate what Star Trek did in its time. As an adult, you can appreciate how progressive it was. You learned to be compassionate towards all kinds of people – even alien creatures."

Germick is right: As a television series, Star Trek was far ahead of its time. For starters, there was the multiethnic cast, which included Asian-American and African-American actors. And then in November of 1968, there was "Plato's Stepchildren," an episode that featured one of the first interracial kisses in television history. The participants? Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, and Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols

"It didn't hit me at the time until somebody told me," Nichols told The Huffington Post earlier this year. "I splashed onto the TV screen at a propitious historical moment. Black people were marching all over the South. [Martin Luther King, Jr.] was leading people to freedom, and here I was, in the 23rd century, fourth in command of the Enterprise."

In fact, Nichols later revealed in an interview with NPR, King was actually a driving force in persuading her to stay on the show when she was mulling other career opportunities. This happened in the 1960s, at an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills. Nichols was approached by King, who claimed to be a "Trekkie" himself, as well as her "greatest fan." 

Nichols confessed she was thinking of leaving Star Trek. 

" 'You cannot do that,' " King said, in Nichols' recollection. "And I was stunned. He said, 'Don't you understand what [series creator Gene Roddenberry] has achieved? For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen.' He says, 'do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch.' I was speechless," Nichols remembered.

In the end, she decided to stay – and the television world, nor the galaxy itself, was ever the same again. 

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