A legacy remembered: The impact Nichelle Nichols made on women in film, science

Nichelle Nichols passed at 89

In 1966 Star Trek premiered taking us on a leap in time to the future. Among the cast was Nichelle Nichols, who played a lieutenant on the Star Trek ship for space exploration. Although Nichols’ son confirmed she passed Sunday, her influence on television, the civil rights movement and women in science continue to reach many generations.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In 1966 Star Trek premiered taking us on a leap in time to the future. Among the cast was Nichelle Nichols, who played a lieutenant on the Star Trek ship for space exploration.

Although Nichols’ son confirmed she passed Sunday, her influence on television, the civil rights movement and women in science continue to reach many generations.

Nichols passed away at 89 years old. She was an integral part of one of the most influential shows of the 1960s that impacted the imagination of space exploration and opened doors for future equality and inclusion for women.

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At a time when roles for women, especially African American women, were limited to servants and stereotypes, Nichols and co-star William Shatner shared an interracial kiss on television for the world to see — something that was unthinkable during that time.

It was more than a kiss that broke racial barriers for Nichols. She would go on to encourage women to consider careers in math and science, especially space exploration.

Nichols was in Kingsland, Georgia three years ago to visit the full-scale suite of Constitution-class starship to film a documentary called “Breaking Barriers.”

Cast members of the more recent Star Trek productions saluted the trailblazer on Twitter.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration shared their thoughts:

“We celebrate the life of Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek actor, trailblazer, and role model, who symbolized to so many what was possible. She partnered with us to recruit some of the first women and minority astronauts, and inspired generations to reach for the stars.”

Even in Nichols’ passing, she is a star that will never be forgotten.

At one point, she did not want to be a part of the Star Trek cast, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to do the show. The multiracial cast was created by Gene Roddenberry. He wanted viewers to see that in the far-off future — the 23rd century — human diversity would be fully accepted.


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