The words “legend” and “legendary” are frequently exaggerated and flippantly assigned to any person, place, or thing that has a modicum of impact. But Nichelle Nichols embodies the true definition of what it means to be a legend, to blaze a pathway for peers and future generations, and to be an agent of change both within the scope of her entertainment career and beyond. The truly legendary actress transitioned to be among the stars on July 30, 2022. And our beloved Uhura left a plethora of Star Trek fans, space enthusiasts, and others to cherish her existence.
Nichelle Nichols broke barriers on television as Uhura, a Black lieutenant aboard Star Trek’s now-infamous USS Enterprise in the late 1960s. During this fraught time for Black Americans, Uhura was a beacon of hope. She represented an ideal future with true equality for Black people. Uhura was the gateway into science-fiction and fandom for many kids during that era. Nichols and Uhura were both brilliant, innovative, resourceful, and fierce, pushing boundaries with style and grace.
Nichols gained a throng of followers, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who convinced her to stay when she was thinking about leaving Star Trek. She wanted to leave to return to her first love, theater, but thankfully she took the civil rights leader’s advice. Fans consistently doted on her kindness, witty personality, and how she used her fame to change the world. Nichelle Nichols’ impact as Uhura went far beyond the final frontier of Star Trek. She partnered with NASA in 1977 to recruit more diverse candidates for the Space Shuttle program.
Her volunteer work with NASA lasted until 2015, ending as her health began to wane. In fact, at least two generations of Black girls and women in STEM cite Nichelle Nichols as an inspiration. This list includes legends in their own right like Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space. And in the landscape of television, she set the stage for Black women to thrive in starring roles. Without Nichelle Nichols, there would be no Sonequa Martin-Green, Kerry Washington, Freema Agyeman, Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, and many other Black women who have led TV shows in subsequent years.
Nichols went on to portray Uhura far beyond the original series, starring in several films, the 1970s animated series, and most recently, Star Trek: Prodigy. Inspiring legends like Nichelle Nichols never truly die. Their impact through their onscreen work and philanthropic achievements stand tall and resonate forever. Take your place among the stars, Nichelle Nichols. We love and honor you forever.