Last week I started this side project of sharing Black History Month celebrities within Star Trek and made a comment about the nature of TOS and how TNG was a more inclusive vehicle, to me.
This post is acknowledgement that Nichelle Nichols deserves her due. I wrote: “To see black protagonists in a scifi show was very satisfying — their race and presence wasn’t the narrative source of tension and more importantly, they weren’t expendable.”
Well before becoming the iconic Trekkie, Chicago native Grace Nichelle Nichols was a singer who toured with both the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands and a model, featured in Ebony magazine. Gene Roddenberry was her lover before he set eyes on her acquaintance Majel. She had it going on.
As a kid, I didn’t understand how momentous Ms. Nichols was to the face of network television at the time. All I saw was how often Commander (Lt > Lt Commander) Uhura was left to do all the work (she could take any station), the love interest, or silenced by the white devil (Charlie Evans, proto-Q). What I didn’t see was that that was a big step. From wikipedia:
On Star Trek, Nichols gained popular recognition by being one of the first black women featured in a major television series not portraying a servant; her prominent supporting role as a bridge officer was unprecedented.
What I didn’t see was that the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, astronaut Mae Jemison, and Whoopi Goldberg were influenced by even the presence of Ms. Nichol’s on the show.
After Star Trek she then went to volunteer at NASA to successfully recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency.
I also just learned (yeay wiki) that one of my favourite pulp sci-fi novels, Friday (Heinlein’s award winning, female adventure protagonist novel) was dedicated in part to Nichelle Nichols.
In hindsight, but with full respect, allow me this mea culpa for a woman who embodied the freedom and star qualities captured in her most famous character’s name. Nichelle Nichols, you rocked the past and the future.