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Nichelle Nichols


An article by Jesse J. Holland illustrating how much representation matters.

Over the weekend, when we lost 89-year-old Nichelle Nichols, the actor who portrayed Lt. Nyota Uhura on "Star Trek," we lost more than one of the brightest lights of television and science fiction, one of the most powerful symbols of African American achievement and hope and one of the greatest recruiters of women and minorities into American science and spaceflight. We also lost a strong Black woman who showed the world a future with Black men and women being treated as integral parts of humanity's future and not just background players.

In the same interview in which she mentioned King's excitement at meeting her, Nichols said Whoopi Golberg described to her how, at 9 years old, she had yelled to her family when she first saw "Star Trek": "Come quick, come quick. There's a Black lady on TV, and she ain't no maid!"

Unlike Goldberg, whose childhood excitement over Uhura preceded a career in entertainment, Mae Jemison's excitement over Uhura preceded a career in science. When Jemison climbed aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992, she became the first African American woman in space. She later told C-SPAN: "Lieutenant Uhura was maybe one of the first women you saw every day, every week on television who worked in a technical field. ...And she was African, which was a very different feel for television back then. So, I very much liked Uhura and she was a very important person to me."

Nichols spent her time after "Star Trek's" original television run recruiting women and minorities for NASA, and according to the documentary "Woman in Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA," released last year, in just a few months, she brought in over 8,000 applicants, 1,600 of whom were women and 1,000 of whom were people of color, a significantly more diverse pool of applicants than NASA had seen before.

Curiosity. Tenacity. Empathy. Love.

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