Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Yesterday, December 28, was Nichelle Nichol’s birthday, born in 1932. If you don’t know who Nichelle is, she played Lt. Uhura, the communications officer on the Enterprise, on the original Star Trek series. Ordinarily, I don’t write about celebrities, but I kind of have a little crush on Nichelle. I’m also very impressed with her role in the civil rights movement.
Yes, Lt. Uhura was a key player in civil rights. At this point, some of my readers are thinking “yeah, she was the actress in the first interracial kiss on television.” Actually, that claim has been contested, but certainly it was one of the first in mainstream media, but it’s more than having William Shatner’s gross lips on hers.
She met Martin Luther King, Jr. He was killed on April 4, 1968, so Nichelle must have been no older than 36 when she met him. She was considering leaving Star Trek, and expressed this to MLK, who, in turn, urged her to stay. He pointed out that she was a minority playing a key role on a major television series. She may not have thought herself a leader in the civil rights movement, but she was perceived as such including by Martin Luther King, Jr. What an honor that must be for her.
In 1890 today, December 29 was the Wounded Knee massacre of Native Americans by the US Army. The Native People were starving and had surrendered to the soldiers wanting nothing more than to go to the Pine Ridge reservation to seek refuge. The army wanted to put them in that same reservation, but an over-abundance of itchy trigger-finger soldiers and an attempt by one of them to steal a rifle resulted in a discharge of the rifle and the slaughter of about three hundred Native American men, women and children.
Not long ago, the entire nation was in an uproar and protesting the murder of innocent minorities. Today, to the best of my knowledge, those protests have faded. Perhaps it’s because of the Biden election win, but unfortunately the memories of Americans are short. The protests have apparently ended, but I’m not convinced any progress has been made. Congress promised a sweeping police reform bill, but it never came to pass, or, I should say, at least nothing more than minor bills to appease the masses.
Ours is still a nation of social injustices, and racial inequity. The president signed a proclamation today calling for religious freedom, a shallow gesture coming from a man who is maintaining travel restrictions from largely Muslim nations. So, what happens when we forget? How long until the next unjustified shooting leads to the next wave of anger?
Now is the time for leaders, true leaders, to step forward. We’re in the eye of the storm here. The skies are relatively calm, the storms seem to have subsided at least temporarily. Now our logic shouldn’t be clouded by anger (at least not so much), and now is the time to remember just how much we have left to do to overcome the socioeconomic disparities in our nation.
Maybe we can’t solve these problems, at least not entirely, but this is our opportunity to begin making significant progress. Now is the time for a commission of social (including but not limited to political) leaders to come together and look at what has gone wrong in the past. If we can find the root causes of the problems, we can begin to overcome them.
Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a world where all of the children can play together, regardless of their skin color. He called for equity, and fair opportunities for all, a dream yet to be realized. If anything, we’re moving backwards, as the wealthy have dramatically distanced their holdings over the rest of us in the midst of this pandemic and the economic and employment crisis it wrought. Nichelle’s birthday should remind us of the rights battles yet to be fought, and Wounded Knee should remind us of the dangers of excessive authority in a world that still judges by color, gender, faith and more. I hope Biden, and perhaps more importantly Kamala Harris, the vice-president elect, have plans to heal the nation. They’re not walking into an easy presidency; the political discord, the anger between ideologies, and the distrust between neighbors is higher than ever. Terrorism is on our shores as just a few days ago a massive bomb was set off in Nashville, not targeting people but the infrastructure. If this bomber was liberal or conservative, I don’t know, but the anger of our society is no doubt culpable. It’s time to move away from this place of anger and hatred.