African American actress/singer Nichelle Nichols was born in Robbins, a progressive Illinois community founded by blacks in the 1890s. Nichelle sang with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands, then performed as a single in nightclubs. Garnering acting experience in supporting roles in such films as Mister Buddwing (1965) and Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding!(1966), Ms. Nichols was cast in her signature role in 1966: Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on Star Trek. Much was made in the mainstream press over the fact that here was the first TV science-fiction series to feature a black regular. Much more was made on the set of Trek by Nichols, who issued public complaints about the paucity of her character's screen time. She also seethed inwardly whenever star William Shatner, laboring under the assumption that every move he made was for the good of the series, ordered that Nichelle's lines be cut or altered because they "didn't fit her character." At the end of the first season, Nichols was poised to quit the series. She was persuaded to stay--by one of Star Trek's biggest fans: Dr. Martin Luther King, who felt that Uhura was a positive role model for black women. Before the series' three-year run was out, Nichols made television history by participating in an interracial kiss with William Shatner (though the scene itself was "fudged" so as not to offend those bigots who found such things offensive). In all her subsequent Trek endeavors, including the six theatrical features and the 1972 animated cartoon spin-off, Nichols saw to it that Uhura's contributions were of ever-increasing importance. In recent years, Nichelle Nichols has been active in several educational and pro-social organizations, and has been a guest host on the Sci-Fi cable channel's Inside Space; in 1994, she published her autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. In 1996 she made a memorable appearance at a roast of her former captain William Shatner.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Played a female pimp in the 1974 film Truck Turner.
- Considered quitting Star Trek after the first season, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a fan of the show, convinced her that her character was ground breaking; she remained on the show until the series ended in 1969.
- First African-American to place her handprints in front of Hollywood's Chinese Theatre.
- Worked for NASA recruiting women and minorities into the space program.