On Stardate 76044.6 (July 31, 2022) Nichelle Nichols, known to Star Trek fans as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, completed her mission on Earth. Nichols’ portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura during the 1960’s was unprecedented for Black actresses on American television.
On Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols was one of the first Black women featured in a major television series. Her prominent supporting role as a bridge officer was revolutionary. As Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols became a positive role model for Black children and young women across the nation. Lieutenant Uhura allowed young viewers of Star Trek to see Black people as equals. Indeed, for the first time on television, Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Nyota Uhura gave Star Trek fans the opportunity to see Black people – especially Black Women – as intelligent, contributing members of a group.
In her role as Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols kissed white actor William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in the November 22, 1968, Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” This episode is frequently cited as the first example of an interracial kiss on national television. The William Shatner – Nichelle Nichols kiss was seen as rather unorthodox, quite shocking; and, yet, very mold-shattering and ground-breaking.
As Lieutenant Uhura, Nichelle Nichols helped to lay the foundation for a society receptive to equality. Nichelle Nichols drove home the important lesson of Star Trek. Specifically, diversity makes society stronger. That said, it is up to us to embrace diversity; and, by doing so, live up to Nichelle Nichols’ example. It is up to all of us to replace bigotry, discrimination, and hatred with tolerance, acceptance, and compassion.
John Di Genio