Nichelle Nichols, a pioneering 'Star Trek' actress, has died at the age of 89.

 Nichelle Nichols, a pioneering 'Star Trek' actress, has died at the age of 89.

Nichelle Nichols, a pioneering 'Star Trek' actress, has died at the age of 89.

W King told Nichols about how her work influenced generations of Black Americans who saw her play a non-stereotypical role. Nichols took King's words to heart, remaining with "Star Trek" until its conclusion in 1969.

"That was the greatest thing," Nichols said of her encounter with the civil rights movement icon in 2014. "Being told that by Dr. Martin Luther King was more important than anything else, because he was my leader. So I stayed, and I never looked back."

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Nichols chose to remain in an influential role by staying. She started a chain of events that changed the course of history.

The United States successfully landed two men on the moon the same year "Star Trek" ended in 1969. All eyes were on the future of space flight, but there was one major shortcoming.

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"There were no women or minorities in the space program, and this is supposed to represent the entire country?" In 2014, Nichols told CNN. She remembered thinking, "Not in today's world. That is simply not an option. That is something I am unable to participate in."

Nichols was hired by NASA in the late 1970s to help recruit women and people of color into the space race. "I'm going to bring you so many qualified women and minority astronaut applicants for this position," Nichols said, "that if you don't choose one... everybody in the newspapers across the country will know about it."

Her efforts aided in the launch of Guion Bluford, the first African American in space, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, credits Nichols with inspiring her.

"Science is neither a boy's nor a girl's game. It's a game for everyone. It all comes down to where we are and where we're going "Nichols stated to CNN. "We benefit from space travel here on Earth. And we're not done yet. There will be more investigation."

Sheena McKenzie assisted with this report. On Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT, watch "United Shades of America."

Start a conversation about the power of Afrofuturism, and it won't be long before Nichelle Nichols' name comes up.


The actress made television history as the iconic Lt. Uhura, portraying a 23rd-century communications officer aboard the "Star Trek" USS Enterprise. It was one of the first times a Black woman in a position of power was cast on television, and it was in a science fiction series, no less.

According to Atlanta-area comic book creator and game designer Dedren Snead, the result was radical. "Seeing her on the show as a Black woman... that was... who was that?" On Sunday's "United Shades of America," Snead tells W. Kamau Bell. "It's just that I've never seen Black people in fantasy in that way."

Lt. Uhura may have been a fictional character, but her on-screen authority in a futuristic world wielded enormous power at a time when Black Americans were fighting for civil rights.

Nichols, who grew up in the Chicago area and started performing as a teen, had her sights set on Broadway. Nichols was ready to move on as the first season ended in 1967.

According to the story, Nichols was at an event when she was informed that a "Star Trek" fan wanted to meet her. "She thinks it'll be this pimply-faced kid," comic book designer Afua Richardson tells Bell. "It was, however, Martin Luther King Jr. 'Your show is the only one I'll let my kids watch,' he said. She eventually told him she was leaving the show, and he issued a command, saying, 'No, you cannot leave the show, it is too important.'"

Nichelle Nichols, a groundbreaking 'Star Trek' actress, died at the age of 89.

Nichelle Nichols, a pioneering 'Star Trek' actress, has died at the age of 89.

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