For millions of “Star Trek” fans she was Uhura the Communications officer on the USS Enterprise. Known as Nichelle Nichols, the lady who was an actress and activist died July 30, 2022 in Silver City, New Mexico at the age of 89.
In announcing her death as a result of natural causes, her son Kyle Johnson said, “her light however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration,”
When Gene Roddenberry first envisioned “Star Trek” he saw it with a diverse group of characters. A cast that not only broke a number of barriers; but also, ruffled a number of Hollywood executive feathers. In 1966, character roles were very much a stereotype that did not include people of color in major or non traditional roles or women in positions of power.
Nichols helped to break all of that. Roddenberry lost the battle of a female in command but he won the battle to keep the two most iconic characters in the franchise – the alien unemotional science officer and the female communications officer of African descent.
And in Plato’s Stepchildren” in what would be the final season of the original “Star Trek” series Nichols as Uhura and William Shatner as Captain James Kirk performed what is believed to be the first interracial kiss on television.
After the first season, she was going to leave the show but a meeting with Civil Rights Activist Martin Luther King not only changed Nichols mind; but also, helped to shape the future of “Star Trek”. Nichols said that King told her, “You’ve changed the face of television forever, and therefore, you’ve changed the minds of people.”
Kate Mulgrew, who became the first female captain in the franchise on “Star Trek: Voyager” spoke on Nichols via Twitter saying, “Nichelle Nichols was The First. She was a trailblazer who navigated a very challenging trail with grit, grace, and a gorgeous fire we are not likely to see again.”
After leaving the Enterprise, Nichols joined what fans hope to be a predecessor of Starfleet Command – NASA – what’re worked as a recruiter to help diversify that crew as well.
One of 10 children, she was born Grace Dell Nichole’s on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois. But she hated being called Gracie and as a teen she chose the name Nichelle.
While best known as an actress, Nichols got her professional start as a singer and dancer – skills she displayed on a few episodes of “Star Trek”. Before moving to Hollywood, she spent time in New York working with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton.
While best known for her work on the “Star Trek” franchise, Nichols has appeared in nearly 70 different productions beginning in 1959 in an uncredited role as a dancer in “Porgy and Bess”.
Her other roles include “The Lieutenant”, “Tarzan”, “The D.A.”, “Antony and Cleopatra”, “Inside Space”, ”Gargoyles”, “Futurama”, “The Simpsons”, “Heroes”, ad the daytime drama “The young and the Restless”.
She was a regular at “Star Trek” conventions up until 2018 and a diagnosis of dementia.
With the death of Nicholas, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and William Shatner are the only remaining members of the original “Star Trek” series. DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, and Leonard animosity have all passed on.
Married and divorced twice, Nichols is survived by her only son Kyle.
feature photo credit: Nichelle Nichols, NASA Recruiter – GPN-2004-00017.jpg