Actress Nichelle Nichols has died at the age of 89. Nichols made history with her role as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek which earned her the admiration of Martin Luther King Jr, via The Hollywood Reporter. According to the outlet, Nichols passed away on Saturday night (July 30) due to natural causes. Her son, Kyle Johnson, confirmed the news on her official Facebook page. “Her light however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration,” he wrote on Sunday (July 31.) “Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.” Nichols died in Silver City, New Mexico, according to a family spokesman. She had been hospitalized recently and was living with her son.
Nichols' portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura was groundbreaking when the series aired in the '60s — a time when most Black women were portraying servants, per The Hollywood Reporter. The actress revealed in a documentary that a meeting with Dr. King inspired her to continue her role in the series despite wanting to quit and return to musical theater. “He told me that Star Trek was one of the only shows that his wife Coretta and he would allow their little children to stay up and watch,” she shared.
“I thanked him and I told him I was leaving the show. All the smile came off his face and he said, ‘You can’t do that. Don’t you understand, for the first time, we’re seen as we should be seen? You don’t have a Black role. You have an equal role.'" She continued, “I went back to work on Monday morning and went to Gene’s office and told him what had happened over the weekend. And he said, ‘Welcome home. We have a lot of work to do.’”
RIP Nichelle Nichols.