Living legend Nichelle Nichols celebrated her 89th birthday on Tuesday, Dec. 28. Fifty-five years after the debut of “Star Trek: The Original Series,” Nichols continues to touch the hearts and minds of generations.
It would be an understatement to say Nichols’ Lt. Uhura, later given the first name Nyota, inspired generations of actors and sci-fi fans. Although her character did not have a first name until the 2009 “Star Trek” movie remake, Nichols’ Uhura introduced generations of Black viewers to the possibility of adventure beyond their current reality.
First discovered by Duke Ellington at the age of 15, Nichols was a triple threat actor, dancer, and singer who performed in many theater productions for moving to television. She starred in a production of “Porgy and Bess” and was twice nominated for the Sarah Siddons Award for Best Actress for her roles in “The Blacks” and “Kicks and Company.”
According to Screen Rant, she had a few opportunities to flex her vocal skills on “Star Trek.” The outlet noted that notes from the show’s second season indicated that her character Uhura was popular among the crew for her singing.
Nichols was also a regular on the convention circuit, making appearances at Star Trek conventions, Comic Cons, and related events. After her diagnosis with dementia in 2018, Nichols made fewer public appearances.
She made her final major public appearance during the Los Angeles Comic-Con. As reported by NewsOne earlier this month, Nichols was also honored by NASA at the event.
During this year’s Los Angeles Comic Con festivities, Nichols was honored for her impactful and transformative work on and off the screen through an array of panels. She was diagnosed with dementia three years ago, making the commemoration even more memorable.
As part of the convention, she was awarded the NASA Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for playing an instrumental role in diversifying the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. After accepting the medal presented by NASA Astronaut Appearance Specialist Denise Young, Nichols received a standing ovation.
Her presence on screen led to a sting expanding the ranks of real-life space explorers through her work with NASA to increase recruitment of women and people of color into the agency’s ranks. The “Women in Motion” Documentary explores Nichols’ work with NASA.
Nichols formed the company Women In Motion, Inc. in 1977, recruiting over 8,000 people of color into NASA.
The film is available with a subscription to Paramount+ or free on streaming services Tubi or Vudu.
1. First Black Woman Television LeadSource:Getty
Lt. Nyota Uhura blazed a trail for countless Black actors in the Star Trek universe and beyond.
2. Diversifying NASASource:Getty
3. She Inspired Mae JemisonSource:Getty
Astronaut Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to enter the U.S. space program, spoke in 2013 about how growing up watching Nichols on “Star Trek” made her want to go into space. Jemison later met her idol when she was in medical school at Cornell University. And the rest is history!
4. Hidden Comedic TalentSource:Getty
We stan a queen with a sense of humor. Recounting her groundbreaking kiss with “Star Trek” co-star William Shatner, Nichols invited him to make history with her again. Approaching him as if to recreate their epic 1968 kiss, Nichols flips the script on Shatner telling him to kiss her Black a** instead!
5. Supporting Her SuccessorsSource:Getty
Since Nichols’ Uhura first graced the screen there have been several key Black characters in the “Star Trek” universe, spanning several shows and movies. In 2017, she appeared at the premiere of “Star Trek: Discovery” sharing a moment with star Sonequa Martin-Green.
7. Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Source:Getty
Nichols was close to leaving “Star Trek: The Original Series” for a role on Broadway until a chance encounter led her to reconsider her decision. In a 2011 NPR interview, Nichols recounted the conversation with the civil rights leader at which time he told her about the impact of her role for Black children including his own.