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Nichelle Nichols, the trailblazing actress who broke barriers for Black women on-screen and off-screen, has died at 89 years old.
Nichols’s son Kyle Johnson announced her death on Sunday, writing on the actress’ Facebook page: “Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. 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. Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.”
Nichols will forever be remembered for her role on Star Trek as Lieutenant Uhura, the Enterprise’s commanding and whip-smart communications officer. As one of the first Black women to play a leading role on network television, Nichols was often at the vanguard of social change. After the show’s first season concluded, she quit the series to return to her work on Broadway, only to reverse her decision when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. begged her to remain on Star Trek. In the show’s third season, she and William Shatner exchanged the first kiss between a Black person and a white person on American broadcast television; though the network was fearful of blowback, Paramount received more fan mail than it had ever gotten for a single Star Trek episode.
But Nichols’s influence on social progress extended far beyond television. Beginning in 1977, she teamed up with NASA to recruit women and people of color as astronauts, inspiring thousands of applications—including Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in space. “Nichelle’s advocacy transcended television and transformed NASA,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “After Apollo 11, Nichelle made it her mission to inspire women and people of color to join this agency, change the face of STEM, and explore the cosmos. Nichelle’s mission is NASA’s mission. Today, as we work to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon under Artemis, NASA is guided by the legacy of Nichelle Nichols.”
Over the weekend, tributes to Nichols poured in on social media. Some came from fellow members of the Trek universe, like her co-star George Takei and her successor Celia Rose Gooding (now portraying a younger Cadet Uhura on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds), while others came from astronauts, Trekkies, and people all around the world. Below, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites. Live long and prosper, Ms. Nichols.
Many actors become stars, but few stars can move a nation. Nichelle Nichols showed us the extraordinary power of Black women and paved the way for a better future for all women in media. Thank you, Nichelle. We will miss you. pic.twitter.com/KhUf4YM6pX
— Lynda Carter (@RealLyndaCarter) July 31, 2022
She made room for so many of us. She was the reminder that not only can we reach the stars, but our influence is essential to their survival. Forget shaking the table, she built it! #RIPNichelleNichols 🕊✨🖖🏾 pic.twitter.com/k1aVw15w3d
— ALIEN SUPERSTAR CRG (@celiargooding) July 31, 2022
Nichelle Nichols left behind such a beautiful legacy of what it really means to use the platform you have to make the world a better place. I think of her example often and I hope others will too. Rest well, Lt.
— Ashley Nicole Black (@ashleyn1cole) July 31, 2022
— Tawny “My Name is Tawny” Newsome (@TrondyNewman) July 31, 2022
Heartbroken at the news of her passing, however, I am comforted in the knowledge that she illuminated the way for so of us many with her grace, beauty, talent, intelligence and her commitment to humanity going boldly to the stars! #godess #queen
— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) July 31, 2022
I first met Nichelle Nichols in 1985 at KHNL, a TV station in Honolulu. She posed with me, and the next day, I asked her to sign a print. “Sure, as long as you sign a print for me!” I still smile when I think of the day that she asked ME for MY autograph. Go boldly, Nichelle. pic.twitter.com/wEa5o7eVmL
— Michael Okuda (@MikeOkuda) July 31, 2022
My favorite photo of Dad and Nichelle Nichols on set. The importance of Nichelle's legacy cannot be over-emphasized. She was much loved and will be missed. pic.twitter.com/1zlTd4F9BD
— Adam Nimoy (@adam_nimoy) July 31, 2022
My love for the original Star Trek is profound. Nichelle Nichols was a ground-breaker and a glorious ambassador for her show, her role and science all her life. And a truly lovely person. May she have a wonderful adventure to the final frontier.#ripnichellenichols
— jason alexander (@IJasonAlexander) July 31, 2022
@NichelleIsUhura is forever for me the embodiment of grace, daring, intelligence, fun, inspiration, beauty, talent & the future.
Today I am heart-sad at her passing.
I consider our dearest friendship a great treasure & privilege in my life. pic.twitter.com/1U1PpWSryy
— Dr. Mae Jemison (@maejemison) July 31, 2022
Rest in peace #NichelleNichols #icon for all strong #women who hoped to become #explorers. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for sharing memories of early days on the #spaceship as you blazed a beautiful trail for those of us who came after you.
— Gates McFadden (@gates_mcfadden) July 31, 2022
Nichelle Nichols told us that we belonged in outer space. We are limitless. The heavens have gained an Uhura today.
— Colman Domingo (@colmandomingo) July 31, 2022
I hope Nichelle Nichols is at peace and that she knew how much she meant to all us Black girls who grew up watching her.
A Black woman in the future, in space. Uhura.
Her name, a kiss in every mouth.
— Nichole 🍞🍯 (@tnwhiskeywoman) July 31, 2022
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