Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Nyota Uhura in Star Trek has died. She was 89 years old.
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“Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” her son Kyle Johnson wrote Sunday afternoon in a social media post. “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. Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.”
“I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further,” he continued. “Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected.”
She was cast as Uhura by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry after she guest-starred as the fiancee of a Black U.S. Marine who is a victim of racism in a 1964 episode of another NBC show he created, the Camp Pendleton-set The Lieutenant.
Nichols had prepared to quit Star Trek after the first season but she reconsidered after a chance encounter with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It turns out he was a fan of the series.
From Hollywood Reporter:
“He told me that Star Trek was one of the only shows that his wife Coretta and he would allow their little children to stay up and watch,” she recalled. “I thanked him and I told him I was leaving the show. All the smile came off his face and he said, ‘You can’t do that. Don’t you understand, for the first time, we’re seen as we should be seen? You don’t have a black role. You have an equal role.’
“I went back to work on Monday morning and went to Gene’s office and told him what had happened over the weekend. And he said, ‘Welcome home. We have a lot of work to do.’ ”
Said Roddenberry in the documentary: “I was pleased that in those days, when you couldn’t even get Blacks on television, that I not only had a Black but a Black woman and a Black officer.”Hollywood Reporter
She also inspired a number of young females and African Americans to pursue careers in the space program.
NASA later employed Nichols in an effort to encourage women and African Americans to become astronauts. NASA Astronaut Group 8, selected in 1978, included the first women and ethnic minorities to be recruited, including three who were Black. Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to fly aboard the Space Shuttle, cited “Star Trek” as an influence in her decision to join the space agency.
Nichols remained a supporter of the space program for decades.
In 1991, Nichols became the first African American woman to have her handprints immortalized at the TCL Chinese Theatre. The ceremony also included other members of the original “Star Trek” cast.Variety