Actress Nichelle Nichols, known for her famous role as communications officer Lieutenant Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, displays her Lego astronaut ring while visiting the Build the Future activity inside a tent on the launch viewing area at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Nov. 1, 2010. – Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA



The Dallas Examiner


Nichelle Nichols was a model and actress that would later go on to change the world.

She graced the cover of a 1967 issue of Ebony and often performed in musical stage plays such as Porgy and Bess. She also had a one-time role in an episode dealing with racism in the 1964 TV series, The Lieutenant produced by Gene Roddenberry.

But her life changed when she landed a major roll on Roddenberry’s newly created Star Trek as Lt. Nyota Uhura in 1966, making her the first African American in a lead role on TV. Her character as a lieutenant commander was a translator and communications officer on the Starship USS Enterprise.

Her character exhibited beauty, poise and extraordinary intelligence – specializing in linguistics, the scientific study of language; cryptography, writing in a secret code; and philology, the study of speech especially literature as it sheds light on cultural history.

By the end of the first season, she had so much fan mail she was offered a contract to continue. But, drawn to musical theater, she was preparing to accept a role in a stage play that was Broadway bound. Offers for other roles were coming in as well.

Nichols gave her resignation to Roddenberry, who was disappointed because he was trying to make an impact on television by showcasing the importance of diversity. He insisted she take the weekend to think it over, saying the role was greater than she realized.

She left thinking she knew the path before her and where it would lead.

That Saturday, she was a celebrity guest at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills. Shortly after she was seated, the organizer came to greet her and tell her about a fan.

“There’s someone here who said he is your biggest fan and he’s desperate to meet you,” he said, choosing not to reveal the fan’s identity.

She thanked him, expecting a young Star Trek fan. She stood up and turned around.

“Instead of a fan, there’s this face that the world knows with this beautiful smile on him. And I remember thinking, ‘Who ever that fan is, is going to have to wait because Dr. King – Dr. Martin Luther King, my leader – is walking toward me,’” she recalled. “Then this man says, ‘Yes Ms. Nichols, I am that fan.’”

She was rendered speechless.

King went on to say that his family was also fans. It was the only show that his wife would let her children stay up to watch. After talking for a while, she revealed that she would be leaving the show.

King interrupted her and said she could not leave the show. Again, she was speechless.

“Don’t you understand what this man has achieved?” King asked. “For the first time on television, we will be seen as we should be seen everyday, as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors – who are in this day, but yet you don’t see it on television until now.”

King went on to say that Roddenberry had opened a door and if she left, the door could be closed. He explained that her role was not that of a Black person or woman and could easily be filled by a White man or even an alien. It was that moment that she realized the gravity of her position on TV and across the world.

That Monday, she went to Roddenberry’s office, told him about the conversation and agreed to stay. Roddenberry immediately tore Nichols’ resignation into several pieces.

“Thank God for Dr. King. Someone understands what I’m doing,” he expressed.

She made history again when she kissed one of her White cast mates, Captain Kirk,

during a 1968 episode – making her the first African American to perform a scripted interracial kiss on national TV. She continued her role in several Star Trek prequel series until 1991.

The fortuitous trailblazer continued making historic steps when she used her role as a fictional space explorer to create a space for minorities and women to become scientists and astronauts.

During her speech at the National Space Institute, she questioned why there weren’t African Americans or women in real space programs.

“Where are my people?” she recalled asking, “I challenged everyone to answer the question.”

Space programs insisted there were no qualified African Americans. They also stated they had no plans of accepting women.

However, NASA accepted the call for diversity and invited her to its headquarters. NASA administrator Joe Fletcher asked Nichols to be an ambassador and serve as a spokesperson for their recruiting program to bring in its first people of color and women astronauts.

“I will bring you so many qualified people,” she insisted.

In 1977, Nichols formed Women In Motion Inc. NASA awarded her recruiting program $49,900 to hire people of color and female astronauts. She recruited over 8,000 African American, Latino and Asian people – 1649 were women.

Her recruits included U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Guion S. Bluford, who in 1978 became the first African American to go into space, and physicist Ronald McNair, the second African American in space in 1984.

Generations later, she has inspired many women of color to explore the world of space and science, including Mae Jemison, who became the first female African American in space in 1992.

Though many have not heard of her, Nichols’ program led the way in turning NASA into one of the most diverse independent agencies in the United States Federal Government.

“I said, ‘If they let me in the door, I will open it so wide they will see the world,’” she promised.



Women In Motion documentary;;; Archives of American Television, Television Academy Foundation, Air Force Reserves Command online, National Women’s History Museum and Encyclopedia Britannica online.

Robyn H. Jimenez is the Vice President of Production and Editorial at The Dallas Examiner. She began working at newspaper in January of 2001. She was hired temporarily as a secretary and soon became a...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *