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Nichelle Nichols

Black Arts and Culture

In Memoriam: Nichelle Nichols Was Role Model For Black Women

Special To The New Journal and Guide

On July 30, Nichelle Nichols, known for her role as communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek, died in Silver City, New Mexico. She was 89.

The trailblazing actress’s death was confirmed by Gilbert Bell, her talent manager and business partner of 15 years, though no official cause of death has been revealed.

Nichols—who played Lt. Uhura on the original series, and starred in the first six Star Trek films—is highly regarded as a role model in the entertainment industry, being one of the first Black women to be featured in such a high-caliber role on television.

In an interview for the Archive of American Television, she told astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson that she actually pondered leaving Star Trek after the first season for Broadway instead. However, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a fan of the series and understood

the importance of her character in opening doors for other African Americans on television, personally persuaded her to stay on the show.

Nichols gained attention by sharing one of the first interracial kisses in television history with costar William Shatner on Star Trek’s 1968 “Plato’s Stepchildren” episode. Considering the climate at the time, it was a courageous move from show creator Gene Roddenberry

and NBC, becoming the first televised white/African American direct lip-to-lip kiss.

Though a landmark moment, NBC insisted the actors’ lips never actually touched, however Nichols and Shatner remembered the filming process very differently, with Nichols sharing in her 1994 autobiography Beyond Uhura, that it was, in fact, a “real kiss.”

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Whoopi Goldberg, who later played Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, has admitted to looking up to the fellow actress, recalling that she was astounded and excited to see a Black woman character on TV who was not a maid.

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to fly aboard the Space Shuttle, also cited Star Trek as an influence in her decision to join the space agency.

Born Grace Nichols in Robbins, Illinois, Nichols created a distinguished career, entering show business at age 16 singing with Duke Ellington in a ballet she created for one of his compositions.

She studied in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, gaining her big break with a casting in Oscar Brown’s high-profile but ill-fated 1961 musical “Kicks and Co.” Though the play only had a brief run, Nichols attracted the attention of Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, who booked

her at his Chicago Playboy Club. 1967 Photo: Wikipedia

2010 Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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