A very happy belated birthday to trailblazer, Nichelle Nichols, who turned 82 on December 28th. Sci-Fi fans may know her best for boldly taking us where no one had gone before, with her role as, Lt. Nyota Uhura, in TV’s, Star Trek. Nichols was first offered the part by Series Creator, Gene Roddenberry, in 1966, and has since reprised her role in subsequent Star Trek films, ending with 1991’s, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It just goes to show how much staying power characters can have when they touch the lives of so many. And how much influence they can yield within society, with their ability to empower, provide visibility, and shape our attitudes and perceptions of many different groups. Positive representation is important. And although she was unaware at first, Nichelle Nichols, was doing just that, but it took Martin Luther King, Jr. to make the actress realize just how vital her presence on Star Trek was and what it meant for The Civil Rights Movement. Nichols’ was breaking new ground with this character by challenging stereotypes and breaking racial barriers. She truly was going where no one had gone before. And as result, she gave hope and inspiration to not only the African American Community, but to people everywhere who might have felt they had no choice in what they did in life. Here’s a wonderful piece from, “A Mighty Girl” that highlights her contributions to equality and just how much impact she had in opening doors to the future:
“Nichelle Nichols made television history in the 1960s with her portrayal of “Star Trek” character Lieutenant Nyota Uhura — a breakthrough role that showed an African American woman in a position of power as the fourth in command of a starship. At the end of the first season, however, Nichols was frustrated by the show’s development and considering a move back to Broadway until she met a very special fan who convinced her how important her role on the show was — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After Nichols told Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry that she was leaving the show, he encouraged her to think it over. That weekend, she attended a fundraiser for the NAACP and met King who told her he was a “Trekkie” and “Lieutenant Uhura’s most ardent fan.” As Nichols described in an interview with the Huffington Post, when King learned that she was leaving, he urged her to stay, stating:
“‘Don’t you realize how important your presence, your character is? This is not a black role or a female role. You have the first nonstereotypical role on television. You have broken ground’… ‘Here we are marching, and there you are projecting where we’re going. You cannot leave [the show]. Don’t you understand what you mean?’ I told him that when I would go on hiatus from the show, I could come and march with him and he said, ‘No! You’re an image for us. We look on that screen and we know where we’re going.’ It was like he was saying, ‘Free at last, free at last!'”
Nichols did stay on the show with its entire run and went on to make history again in 1968 as part of the first scripted interracial kiss on TV with William Shatner, who played the show’s lead character, Captain James T. Kirk. Nichols’ groundbreaking character had a huge cultural influence, especially as a role model for many African American girls. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, has cited her as an important influence and even used Uhura’s signature line “Hailing frequencies open” during the course of her duties on the space shuttle.”