For years, Nichelle Nichols has been a major draw to various comic book and science-themed conventions, the most popular of them being those events sponsored by Comic-Con. Now, at the age of 88, the television pioneer and science advocate has decided to no longer make these types of appearances.
Nichols played the character Lt. Nyota Uhura, an original cast member of the television series “Star Trek.” She was cast in the role in 1966. The Los Angeles Times reports the trailblazer originally believed that the role was not substantive and considered leaving after only one season — but a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King made her decide to stay on until the show ended in 1969.
She told PBS that King was a Trekkie and an “ardent fan” of her character. She remembered him as telling her, “Do you not understand what God has given you? You have the first important non-traditional role, non-stereotypical role.”
“You cannot abdicate your position,” Nichols recalls him instructing her. “You are changing the minds of people across the world, because for the first time, through you, we see ourselves and what can be.”
This was apparent by the reception that she has received over nearly six decades in the sci-fi entertainment world and as a spokesperson for diversity in the academy, space, and technology.
During the 2021 Comic-Con L.A. conference last weekend, fans and supporters came to celebrate her life and achievements over a three-day farewell event.
Tributes were made to salute her pioneering efforts on television, and her work to recruit women and people of color to the American space program.
The icon, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2018, waved and blew kisses to her fans. She also did the Vulcan salute, a signature greeting done by Dr. Spock from the hit show.
One of the video tributes was from Sonequa Martin-Green, “Star Trek: Discovery,” and she spoke about how warmly Nichols treated her upon first meeting.
“I remember the great ball of nervousness that was in my stomach as I was approaching her, but she whispered to me in my ear so delicately she said ‘Take care. It’s yours now,'” Martin-Green, who plays the sci-fi franchise’s first Black female starship captain on “Star Trek: Discovery,” said. “And I melted. And I needed that. I needed that blessing. She made me feel welcomed. She made me feel justified and she made me feel empowered.”
“Nichelle’s legacy can be described as that of sacrificial, heroic contribution,” Martin-Green added. “She decided to stay, and ultimately devoted her entire self to the progression of Black people, people of color, and women. And she gave everything. She gave her time, her energy. She gave her intelligence, her wisdom, her leadership, and her heart for the betterment of the world and the future. I am only here because of her.
“I also owe it to Nichelle to continue her legacy of heroism through sacrifice,” Martin-Green continued. “And that is what she has taught me. That is how her words have been reverberating in my heart here lately, is making that choice to step away from self-interest, and instead devote yourself to the interests of others.”
In attendance as her special guests were a series of family, friends, and mentees. The list includes son Kyle Johnson; her younger sister Marian Michaels; actresses Judy Pace and Beverly Todd; and former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who says that she joined NASA because of Nichols’ powerful influence.
Jemison, who has frequently borrowed one of Nichol’s classic Star Trek lines “Hailing frequencies open,” said that it was amazing to see the “many different ways” people were impacted by her.
“One of the things that you’ve heard everyone say when they talk about meeting and spending any time in Miss Nichelle Nichols’ presence is warmth and generosity. And you feel like you’ve known her because she is that real, not just relatable, but that important and sentient in our lives,” Jemison shared. “She said to me, ‘Life is what the universe gave you for free when you were born. But style is what you do with it.’ ”
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