Happy 82nd Birthday to Nichelle Nichols (December 28)! It’s hard to argue that any other Star Trek actor has had a more significant, positive influence on our culture and society than Nichols over the years.
Her very presence on the bridge of the Enterprise in the 1960s was a powerful statement that particularly inspired black girls and women, including Whoopi Goldberg and astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced Nichols to stay on Star Trek because of how integral she was to Star Trek demonstrating a future where racism is over and black people have survived and thrived.
In 1992 Nichols said in an interview:
I rather resent it when people say Uhura didn’t do anything but say, ‘Hailing frequencies open.’ That’s notuhura, true. It demeans my status. Uhura represented womanhood and the breakthrough of cross-racial representation. She represented dignity and intelligence, and no one can take that away from her, or me.
But she also played a more active role getting women and visible minorities into science and space careers. After Star Trek she became “NASA’s ‘Secret Weapon'”, helping to recruit more diverse applicants to the space agency. A November 1985 Starlog article about Nichols’ involvement stated:
[Nichelle Nichols’] record of accomplishment speaks for itself: NASA originally had 1500 applicants from women and minorities on file. Women in Motion helped spur that number to exceed 8000 in six months. Nichols received the American Society of Aerospace Education’s Friend of the Year award for ‘outstanding contributions to the promotion of aviation and space.
Most of all I appreciate how, in so many interviews and convention appearances and in her memoir, Nichols has repeatedly challenged unfairness she experienced because of her gender and race. She’s acted as a role model for the marginalized and an educator for everyone else.
So again, sending my very best wishes to Nichelle Nichols for a happy birthday, and thanks for all you’ve done for the Star Trek franchise and our broader society.