Live Long and Prosper, Nichelle Nichols: Star Trek’s Trailblazer

Nichelle Nichols’ death shines a light on the bright trail she left behind for many women of color.

Last Saturday, July 30, Kyle Johnson, the late Nichelle Nichol’s son, announced her death on her Instagram. Although already suffering from dementia, she eventually passed away due to heart failure in a hospital at Silver City, New Mexico. Her iconic role as Communications Officer Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek blazed more than just a trail for women in sci-fi movies. It also blazed a trail for women of color in other fields. She eventually embraced her role as the Fourth-in-Command of the Starship Enterprise, even becoming an advocate for women to venture to the galaxies and stars beyond.

She opened the hailing frequencies when women of color needed it most.

Photo from Nichelle Nichols

“Everybody, come quick, come quick — there’s a Black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!” were the words of a 9-year-old Whoopi Goldberg who eventually became a beloved comedian.

Nichelle Nichols lived in an era where representation for women of color was rare. She was also ready to quit, even handing Star Trek’s Creator Gene Rodenberry a resignation letter. But after a bit of convincing from Noble Prize Winner Martin Luther King Jr., she decided to stay. During the 2018 Comic Con, she shared how he changed her mind.

“I never got to tell him why [she was tempted to quit], because he said, ‘You cannot, you cannot…for 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, and can go to space, who are professors, lawyers.”

Dr. King Jr. went further stating, “If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a black role, and is not a female role; he can fill it with anybody—even an alien,” she shared.

Photo from Nichelle Nichols

Her line “Hailing frequencies open!” would also eventually be former NASA Astronaut Mae C. Jemison’s opening words as she became the “first African-American woman to head into space” in 1992.

Live and Prosper in our Memories, Lieutenant Uhura!

It’s heartbreaking for any Trekkie to see members of the original cast go. But we can make sure to always remember how Nichelle blazed a trail for many other African-American women. As we send Nichelle Nichols off to another galaxy where even the Enterprise cannot venture, we will keep our hailing frequencies open. And we salute her. “May you live long and prosper in our memories, Lieutenant Uhura.”

More legacies by queens:

Gloria Sevilla: The Queen of Visayan Movies
Susan Roces: Queen of Philippine Movies
Ann Turner Cook: The Original Face of Gerber

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