Nichelle Nichols (/nɪˈʃɛl/, born Grace Dell Nichols; December 28, 1932 – July 30, 2022) was an American actress, singer, and dancer best known for her portrayal of Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series and its film sequels.
Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura was groundbreaking for African American actresses on American television. From 1977 until 2015, Nichols volunteered her time to promote NASA‘s programs and to recruit diverse astronauts, including women and ethnic minorities.
On Star Trek, Nichols was one of the first Black women featured in a major television series. Her prominent supporting role as a bridge officer was unprecedented. Nichols was once tempted to leave the series; however, a conversation with Martin Luther King Jr. changed her mind. Towards the end of the first season, Nichols was given the opportunity to take a role on Broadway. She preferred the stage to the television studio, so she decided to take the role. Nichols went to Roddenberry’s office, told him that she planned to leave, and handed him her resignation letter. Roddenberry tried to convince Nichols to stay but to no avail, so he told her to take the weekend off and if she still felt that she should leave then he would give her his blessing. That weekend, Nichols attended a banquet that was being run by the NAACP, where she was informed that a fan really wanted to meet her.
King personally encouraged her to stay on the series, saying she “could not give up” because she was playing a vital role model for Black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see Black people appearing as equals, going so far as to favorably compare her work on the series to the marches of the ongoing civil rights movement.
Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek:
Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Nyota Uhura in the Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images
This response by King left Nichols speechless, allowing her to realize how important to the civil rights movement her role was, and the next day she went back to Roddenberry’s office to tell him that she would stay. When she told Roddenberry what King had said, tears came to his eyes. Nichols asked Roddenberry for her role back and Roddenberry took out her resignation letter, which he had already torn up.
Former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison has cited Nichols’ role of Lieutenant Uhura as her inspiration for wanting to become an astronaut and Whoopi Goldberg has also spoken of Nichols’ influence. Goldberg asked for a role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the character Guinan was specially created, while Jemison appeared on an episode of the series.
“Nichelle Nichols.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichelle_Nichols. Accessed 1 Aug. 2022.
The power of her role:
Star Trek’s decision to cast Nichelle Nichols, an African American woman, as major character on the show was an almost unheard-of move in 1968. But for black…
Remembering Nichelle Nichols on IMDB: 1932 – 2022