Nichelle Nichols, the actress revered by “Star Trek” fans everywhere for her role as Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer on the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, died on Saturday in Silver City, N.M. She was 89….
Ms. Nichols was among the first Black women to have a leading role on a network television series, making her an anomaly on the small screen, which until that time had rarely depicted Black women in anything other than subservient roles.
In a November 1968 episode, during the show’s third and final season, Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura are forced to embrace by the inhabitants of a strange planet, resulting in what is widely thought to be the first interracial kiss in television history.
Ms. Nichols’s first appearances on “Star Trek” predated the 1968 sitcom “Julia,” in which Diahann Carroll, playing a widowed mother who works as a nurse, became the first Black woman to star in a non-stereotypical role in a network series….
In a story she often told, that Saturday night she was a guest at an event in Beverly Hills, Calif. — “I believe it was an N.A.A.C.P. fund-raiser,” she recalled in the Archive interview — where the organizer introduced her to someone he described as “your biggest fan.”
“He’s desperate to meet you,” she recalled the organizer saying. The fan, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., introduced himself.
“He said, ‘We admire you greatly, you know,’ ” Ms. Nichols said, and she thanked him and told him that she was about to leave the show. “He said, ‘You cannot. You cannot.’”
Dr. King told her that her role as a dignified, authoritative figure in a popular show was too important to the cause of civil rights for her to forgo. As Ms. Nichols recalled it, he said, “For the first time, we will be seen on television the way we should be seen every day.”