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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Spotlight: Nichelle Nichols

During Black History Month and months to come, this blog will spotlight exceptional black women whose stories inspire us all to challenge our ideas of what it means to be black and female. Today I celebrate Nichelle Nichols, ground breaking actress.

American Actress, Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura (from the Swahili word for freedom, "uhuru") on the popular television series Star Trek, making Nichols one of the black female leads during the late sixties. Looking back at her career, Nichols told interviewers that she was "splashed onto the TV screen at a propitious historical moment. Black people were marching all of the South. Dr. King was leading people to freedom, and here I was, in the 23rd century, fourth in command of the Enterprise."

Despite her success in Star Trek, Nichols always wanted a career in theatre, and had considered leaving the show. But an encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King changed her mind. King told Nichols during a NAACP event that Lieutenant Uhura is "more than a communications officer," and those who are "fighting the good fight were watching [Nichols]." Dr. Martin Luther King described Nichols' character as "the first non-sterotypical role portrayed by a black woman in television history." and “[f]or the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now.”

When her time with Star Trek ended, Nichols worked with NASA to recruit minorities and females for the agency. Nichol's worked inspired thousands, including Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space, and Whoopi Goldberg, actress and comedian.

Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura from 1966 to 1969 and shared the first televised interracial kiss with William Shatner (Captain Kirk) in 1968. In 1992 she earned her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Nichols has authored two science fiction novels and published her autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories in 1994.

“Images show us possibilities. A lot of times, fantasy is what gets us through to reality.” — Mae Jemison

"Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, 'Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there's a black lady on television and she ain't no maid!' I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be."— Whoopi Goldberg

Artwork by M. Steffens


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