Washington, Jul 31 (EFE).- African American actress Nichelle Nichols, best known for portraying the character of Nyota Uhura on the beloved sci-fi television series “Star Trek,” died Saturday, her son announced on his mother’s official Facebook page. She was 89.
“Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” the actress’s son, Kyle Johnson, said in a statement. “Her light however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration. Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.”
The message was accompanied by a photo of Nichols’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, on which a bunch of roses had been placed.
Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura contributed toward breaking racial barriers on television by showing an African American woman in a position of authority on board a starship.
The word “Uhura” means “Freedom” in Swahili, and the actress’s character served in the crucial capacity of the starship Enterprise’s communications officer.
She was born Grace Dell Nichols on Dec. 28, 1932, near Chicago and started her entertainment career as a singer for Duke Ellington at age 16.
The actress – with actor William Shatner, who played Captain James Kirk on the series – shared one of the first interracial kisses on US television.
That iconic moment came in the “Star Trek” episode titled “Plato’s Stepchildren,” airing in 1968 amid the battle for the civil rights for black people in the US.
Nichols had intended to leave the series after its first season in 1966 to pursue a Broadway career, as she said in many later interviews, but civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged her – and succeeded in getting her – to change her mind and stay with “Star Trek.”
As she told the story in 2013, King told her that her role in the series was showing African American boys and girls that they could have the same achievements and rights as white people and that, therefore, she must continue working and playing Uhura.
“‘You cannot, you cannot (leave) … For the first time on television, (we’re being) seen as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful, people who can sing dance, and can go to space, who are professors, lawyers,'” Nichols said King told her. “‘If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a black role, and is not a female role, (the director) can fill it with anybody even an alien.'”
Her presence on TV influenced other actors like African American Whoopi Goldberg, who on various occasions has said that when she was a girl and saw “Star Trek” she always shouted to her family: “Come here, … everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!” adding “I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”
After her role in the “Star Trek” series and films, Nichols worked as a spokesperson for NASA, where she sought to inspire a new generation of “intrepid’ astronauts, the actress said on her official Web page.