Obituary: Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura from Star Trek

Nichelle Nichols, best known as Communications Officer Lt. Nyota Uhura of the spaceship companyShe died on July 30th. She was 89. Her breakthrough performances in star trekcorresponding to the civil rights movement in the United States, helped set the first standard for diversity and inclusion in mainstream on-screen entertainment.

As Uhura, Nichols was a core presence throughout star trek‘s original run on NBC from 1966 to 1968. Up to this point, black actresses were largely given subservient or subservient roles in television and theater. But Nichols, exuding professionalism and 1960s Mod-style sex appeal from her chair on Enterprise’s bridge, opened a channel to Hollywood for stars like Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier.

Born Grace Dell Nichols on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, she modeled in her twenties and thirties and starred in several stage plays, including James Baldwin’s plays Blues for Mister Charliebefore their breakthrough star trek.

Despite their success in star trekIn her first season, Nichols felt called to Broadway and tendered her resignation to show creator Gene Roddenberry after receiving several offers for major stage roles. The following weekend she was a celebrity guest at an NAACP banquet where she presented Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“As a matter of fact, [Star Trek] is the only show my wife, Coretta, and I allow our young children to stay up and watch because their bedtime is up,” King said for the Television Academy Foundation, according to Nichols’ recollection.

“And I had the guts to say, ‘I’m really going to miss my co-stars,’ and he said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I’m going star trek‘ and he said, ‘You can’t do that.’ […] He said, ‘For the first time on television, we’re being seen every day as we were meant to be seen.’”

Nichols withdrew her resignation and continued the series, culminating in her role in Season 3, Episode 10, “Plato’s Stepchildren,” where she shared a kiss with William Shatner, the first interracial romance to be featured on American television. The scene came a year after a Supreme Court decision overturned the Southern states’ laws against interracial marriage.

Although the first run of the series was canceled in 1969, Nichols remained uniquely identifiable star trek figure in the coming decades. Along with Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, and Walter Koenig, she is one of six officers to command the Enterprise from her original three-year mission in the 1960s to six feature film appearances from 1979-1991.

On Earth, Nichols served as ambassador for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration beginning in 1977, specifically to advocate for the training and assignment of women and minority candidates to spaceflight roles. In 2012, NASA credited Nichols with inspiration for the careers of Sally Ride (the first American woman in space) and fellow astronauts Ronald McNair, Frederick Gregory, and Judith Resnik. Obituary: Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura from Star Trek

Charles Jones

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