A True Trailblazer
Honoring Nichelle Nichols aka Lt. Uhura
When I was a kid during the 80s, before the rise of cable television, I only had access to local television channels. We had an old black & white tv and then my father purchased a large television set. It was a game changer.
The colors were rich and vibrant. And gave a deeper context to the programs my brother and me watched. Especially when it came to Star Trek, the 1960s tv series.
I was amazed by the uniforms, the control consoles, and the sleek design of the U.S.S. Enterprise, an elite-class Federation starship. The crew was a diverse mix of Asians, Russians, and Americans., In addition, there was a smattering of alien crew members thrown in from time to time.
Star Trek was the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry who wanted to create a western show in outer space. The mission of the crew of the Enterprise was to “seek out new life and new civilizations” and to “boldly go where no man had gone before.”
Of course, being the 60s, men were the main face of the show. There was Captain James T.Kirk played by William Shatner, a young, handsome captain who was like James Bond in outer space with gadgets and girls. Every other episode he was always in a relationship with a woman — human or alien. He did not discriminate when it came to sex.
The rest of the crew were second in command, Commander Spock, a half-human, half-alien Vulcan, Mr. Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy. His character lived by the rules of logic. There was Dr.McKoy, who held on to his country roots and passions. There were Ensign Chekhov and Ensign Sulu, helming the controls of the ship. There was Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott who kept the Enterprise running in tip-top shape. But the most intriguing and inspirational figure was Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichele Nichols, Chief Communications Officer.
When I first saw Lt. Uhura, I was amazed by her beauty and integral role in the series. I had never seen a Black woman in such a position. Captain Kirk depended on her for communicating with aliens. Most of the shows I watched, Good Times, The Jeffersons, and What’s Happening, featured Black women as maids and wives. None of them had a career and many of them were just trying to make ends meet while raising children (or their men). Lt. Uhura broke the mold.
Roddenberry was instrumental in my desire to become a writer. He launched Star Trek during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of his episodes dealt with racial issues. He also had episodes that spoke to the growing women’s movement. There were definitely scenes that spoke to gender and sexuality, issues that weren’t really being addressed during that era. Roddenberry was ahead of his time.
I loved Lt. Uhura. She was beautiful and intelligent. Uhura didn’t let anyone push her around. Even when she didn’t have lines, her mere presence spoke volumes. When she and Kirk had their famous interracial kiss (the first on television), you could feel the fire through the screen.
Nichele Nichols went on to star in Star Trek movies and even appeared on Star Trek Next Generation. Behind the scenes, she worked with NASA on recruiting women of color into their program. Nichols attended many Star Trek conventions and made appearances on other television shows. In every appearance, Nichols radiated beauty, personality, and style.
I was saddened by her death at 89. Another member of the Star Trek crew has ascended to the stars. She joins Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, Ensign Checkhov, and Gene Roddenberry. The universe is a better place with its spirits in the atmosphere.
Thank you, Nichele Nichols. Thank you, Lt. Uhura. May you radiate on high and watch over us all.