- 1. Star Trek
Nichelle Nichols was an American actress, singer and dancer whose portrayal of Uhura in Star Trek and its film sequels was groundbreaking for African American actresses on American television. From 1977 to 2015, she volunteered her time to promote NASA's programs and recruit diverse astronauts, including some of the first female and ethnic minority astronauts.
Born in the Chicago suburb of Robbins, she trained in dance, and began her career as a dancer, singer and model in Chicago. As an actor, she appeared on stage, in television and in film.
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. She 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 offered a role on Broadway. Preferring the stage to the television studio, 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. Unable to convince her to stay, Roddenberry told her to take the weekend off, and if she still felt she should leave, he would give her his blessing. That weekend, Nichols attended a banquet organized by the NAACP, where she was informed that a fan wanted to meet her.
Calling Nichols a "vital role model", King compared her work on the series to the marches of the ongoing civil rights movement. The next day, she returned to Roddenberry's office to tell him she would stay. When she told Roddenberry what King had said, tears came to his eyes.
Former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison cited Nichols' role of Lieutenant Uhura as her inspiration for becoming an astronaut. Whoopi Goldberg has also spoken of Nichols' influence, saying she asked for a role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and her character Guinan was specially created, while Jemison appeared on an episode of the series.
In her role as Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols kissed white actor William Shatner (as Captain James T. Kirk) in the November 22, 1968 Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren". It has been cited as the first example of an interracial kiss on U.S. television, although several earlier instances have been identified. The Shatner/Nichols kiss was considered groundbreaking, even though it was portrayed as having been forced by alien telepathy. There was some praise and almost no dissent. In her autobiography Beyond Uhura, Star Trek and Other Memories, Nichols cited a letter from a white Southerner who wrote, "I am totally opposed to the mixing of the races. However, any time a red-blooded American boy like Captain Kirk gets a beautiful dame in his arms that looks like Uhura, he ain't gonna fight it." During the Comedy Central Roast of Shatner on August 20, 2006, Nichols jokingly referred to the kiss and said, "What do you say, let's make a little more TV history ... and kiss my black ass!"
Despite the series' cancellation in 1969, Star Trek continued to play a part in Nichols' life. She provided the voice of Uhura in Star Trek: The Animated Series; in one episode, "The Lorelei Signal", Uhura assumes command of the Enterprise. Nichols noted in her autobiography her frustration that this never happened on the original series. She co-starred in six Star Trek films, culminating in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Following the death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015, and until her own death in July 2022, Nichols was one of four surviving cast members, the others being William Shatner, George Takei and Walter Koenig.