Nichelle Nichols: To Boldly Go Where No (Wo)Man Has Gone Before

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When Nichelle Nichols first appeared on Star Trek as Communications Officer Lieutenant Uhura, she was one of the first black women on television to play a character who was not a maid or “the help.” Not long after she began Star Trek, Nichols contemplated leaving the show and pursuing a career on Broadway. However, a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. changed her mind. When she met Dr. King, Nichols was persuaded to remain in her role as Lieutenant Uhura in order to inspire young black women that they could achieve more than ever before.

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Later on Star Trek, Nichols famously kissed co-star William Shatner in what is cited a the first interracial kiss on television in 1968 in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Though the creative team and the network were originally uncertain as to whether this scene would alienate the show’s Southern fans, the kiss was included in the final cut. During the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner in 2006, Nichols referred to this kiss and jokingly said, “Let’s make TV history again--and you can kiss my black ass!”

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After Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Nichols volunteered her time with NASA with a program designed to recruit more female and minority personnel. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was among those recruited through this program. But the legacy of Lieutenant Uhura lives on beyond Nichol’s involvement with NASA. Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, cites Nichols’ role of Lieutenant Uhura as her inspiration for wanting to join NASA and go to space.

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Nichelle Nichols has inspired a generation of women and minorities to achieve greater things and continues to be an inspiration to us all. Now 85, Nichols is still active and can be seen at various Star Trek-related events and conventions!

 

 

 

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