By Abb Jones
The Reelness

Nichelle Nichols, whose portrayal of Star Trek’s communications officer Lieutenant Uhura in the 1960s broke barriers for Black actresses in Hollywood, has died at the age of 89.

Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek.

Nichols’ son announced her death on Facebook, saying she died Saturday night of natural causes. Nichols had suffered a stroke in 2015.

Previously a nightclub singer, Nichols had few acting credits when she was cast in Star Trek. She said she viewed the TV series as a “nice steppingstone” to Broadway stardom. Instead, it would become her lifelong career and bring her global recognition.

Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner in the iconic 1968 Star Trek kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura

Lt. Uhura was one of the first Black television characters in a position of authority, and also was part of television’s first interracial onscreen kisses with William Shatner in 1968. More than just a low budget sci-fi series, Star Trek broke racial stereotypes and became synonymous with thought-provoking concepts about life and the universe.

The weekend after Nichols told showrunner Gene Roddenbury that she was planning to quit the show after the first season, she bumped into civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at a fundraiser, where she says he told her that he was her biggest fan, and pleaded with her not to quit, saying she was an important Black role model for viewers.

Nichelle Nichols, reprising her role of Lt. Uhura in one of six Star Trek films.

Nichols reprised her role in six Star Trek feature films and also served as a NASA ambassador, assisting in their efforts to recruit more women and minorities to the space program.

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