Nichelle broke down the barriers on more than one level in her role as the sexy Uhura, communications officer in the original pioneer sci-fi series.

Nichelle was the first African-American woman to have a featured part in a one-hour drama with a role as an equal, not as a stereotyped domestic worker.

She also planted the first inter-racial kiss on American TV, when she kissed Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) in the 1968 episode "Plato's Stepchildren."

Nichelle's fame as Uhura might not have occurred if not for the intervention of an unusual advisor: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
King convinced her to stick with "Star Trek." He told her she was an important role model for young black women. According to Nichelle, King said, "For the first time the world will see us as we should be seen -- people of quality in the future. You created a role with diginity and beauty and grace and intelligence."

The Captain Kirk kiss episode was banned in the United Kingdom for 25 years, and some TV stations in the South refused to broadcast it. It wasn't really a romantic kiss -- space aliens used mind control to force the characters to kiss -- and NBC filmed two versions of the scene, one with the kiss and one without it, due to fear of viewer's reactions. Because Shatner crossed his eyes in the scene without the kiss, the producers used the kissing scene.

Uhura's influence with black audiences was monumental as several future astronauts were inspired by Nichelle's character. Actress Whoopi Goldberg, who starred in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," told NPR she remembered watching the series as a nine-year-old, and when the show came on she would race through the house, screaming, "There's a black lady on TV and she ain't no maid."
Nichelle Nichols "Star Trek" Uhura
Nichelle Nichols "Star Trek"
Despite Roddenberry's attempt to show all races as equal, that wasn't the case in the real world. The network withheld Nichelle's fan mail because of negative reactions of racist viewers. NBC reportedly urged Roddenberry to limit her role and she complained that Uhura was a "glorified telephone operator in space."

For additional proof that Nichelle was treated as a second class citizen, she was the only cast member who wasn't originally offered a contract; she worked on a week-to-week basis.

Nichelle had appeared on Roddenberry's series "The Lieutenant" several years earlier, and he called her to read for his new sci-fi project. She figured the job would just serve as a stepping stone for working on Broadway.

She told The Wall Street Journal, "I walked into the interview with this magnificent treatise on Africa called Uhuru, which is Swahili for freedom. Gene really liked the name of that book and wanted to use the title as a first name. I said, 'Why don't you do an alliteration of the name Uhuru and make it Uhura? He said, 'You are Uhura and that belongs to you.'"
Part of Uhura's attraction was the form-fitting costume that showed plenty of leg,but Nichelle downplayed the sexiness.

"It was the era of the mini-skirt, everybody wore mini-skirts," she told the BBC. "It amazes me that people still remark about
it being 'revealing.' It revealed nothing. I had long black stockings and boots up to my knees."

Nichelle appeared in the first six "Star Trek" films and became a enthusiastic participate at Trekkie conventions. She recruited minority astronauts for NASA in the 1970s and 1980s.

Born outside of Chicago as Grace Dell Nichols, Nichelle was the daughter of a factory worker who also served as the town mayor and the chief magistrate of Robbins, Illinois. She studied in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

While performing in the play "Kicks and Co." in Chicago, she attracted the attention of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who booked her as a singer at his Chicago Playboy Club.

Nichelle later toured Europe with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands.
Nichelle Nichols "Star Trek" Uhura
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NICHELLE NICHOLS as Lieutenant Uhura in "Star Trek"
After the first season Nichelle decided to leave the show because she felt that her role was limited. She informed "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry that she was departing the series to work on Broadway, and he expressed disappointment to her.

Nichelle told NPR that Roddenberry asked her to take the weekend to reconsider. The following night she attended an NAACP fundraiser in Beverly Hills.

"One of the promoters came over and said, 'Ms. Nichols, there's someone who would like to meet you. He says he is your greatest fan.' And I'm thinking a Trekker. I looked across the way and there was the face of Dr. King smiling at me."
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