Nichelle Nichols: “Star Trek” Pioneer Who Overcame the Racial Prejudices of Her Time




		Nichelle Nichols: pioneer of

When a great person in the entertainment industry dies, I make it a point to search through the archives of Conradh na Gaeilge Diversity the first appearance of that person on our pages. The time and context of what a person did i Diversity they tend to be very exposed to the trajectory of his career.

I did my usual search after the sad news broke on July 31 that actress/singer Nichelle Nichols, the legendary Lieutenant Uhura from the original “Star Trek” series and a true television pioneer, had died at the age of 89. What I found shocked me. This time travel brought me face to face with the ugly history of racism and segregation in the entertainment business, as detailed in our coverage.

It’s surprising to see how common it was to exclude black performers from the industry in the 1960s and 1970s, when Nichols began his career as a singer and actor.

Nichols first reference i Diversity it appeared in a small ad in the June 20, 1960 issue for Ye Little Club, a nightclub on North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills (about where Wally’s is today). The ad promoted several upcoming artists, including “sepia sensation Nichelle Nichols.”

The first reference to Nichols in section i Diversity it was not better. It came nine days later to positive reviews on her Ye Little Club show. Our reviewer called it “sepia-tinged” and “voyeur that further encourages her turn by focusing on the movements of the derrière.”

Until the late 1960s, most references to Diversity Nichols cites her race, always as a quality of her work: She was a “black singer” when she was hired by Epic. She was a “sepia singer” in an article about joining the cast of James Garner’s 1966 thriller “Mr. Buddwing.”

In the early 1970s, as “Star Trek” became more mainstream and cultural norms began to change, Diversity Nichols is not usually labeled by race. But those early quotes stand out as a statement about Hollywood’s institutionalized treatment of black people in the racially tainted industry, although not overtly disparaging at the time.

In fact, Lieutenant Nichols Uhura is the character who most embodies the progressive, inclusive and optimistic spirit that has nurtured “Star Trek” for nearly 60 years. Lieutenant Uhura was a black woman who more than matched William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock and every other Starfleet officer on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Fortunately, there were no qualifiers for Lt. Uhura in the vision of the creator of “Star Trek” Gene Roddenberry for the future. And, thankfully, Nichols had the undoubted talent and determination to make that character a lasting symbol of progress.

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