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Nichelle Nichols

Film and television actress Nichelle Nichols was born on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois near Chicago. Her father, Samuel Earl Nichols, was a factory worker who also served as the mayor of Robbins and as its chief magistrate. Her mother, Lishia Mae (Parks) Nichols, was a homemaker. As a child, Nichols’ family moved to Chicago where she studied dance at the Chicago Ballet.

During the late 1940s, Nichols was discovered by jazz legend Duke Ellington and toured with both Ellington and Lionel Hampton as a lead singer and dancer. Her acting career began in the film Porgy and Bess (1959); and her first television role was on “The Lieutenant” (1964). Nichols went on to record two albums, including “Down to Earth” (1968), and “Out of This World” (1991).

In 1966, Nichols was cast as Lieutenant Commander Uhura in Star Trek, which marked one of the first times that an African American actress was portrayed a non-stereotypical role on television. Nichols went on to appear as Uhura numerous times in the Star Trek movie and television series, including Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), , Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Paramount (1989), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). She was also cast as Ruana in two Tarzan films: Tarzan’s Jungle Rebellion (1967) and Tarzan’s Deadly Silence (1970).

In 1975, Nichols established Women in Motion, Inc., a company that produced educational materials using music as a teaching tool and was expanded to become an astronaut recruitment tool after Nichols won a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This resulted in thousands of women and minorities applying to NASA’s space program, such as Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, and Ellison Onizuka. In addition to her autobiography Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories (1994), Nichols is co-author of Saturn’s Child (1995), and a contributor to publications of the National Space Institute.

In October of 1984, Nichols was presented with NASA’s Public Service Award for her many efforts towards integrating the U.S. space program. She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992, and became the first African American actress to place her handprints in front of Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, along with the rest of the Star Trek cast. Nichols was elected as an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; and, on June 8, 2010, she received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Los Angeles Mission College.

Nichelle Nichols was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 17, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.343

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/17/2013

Last Name

Nichols

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Englewood High School

Betsy Ross Elementary School

First Name

Nichelle

Birth City, State, Country

Robbins

HM ID

NIC04

Favorite Season

All Seasons

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

12/28/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Film actress and television actress Nichelle Nichols (1932 - ) was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her role as Lieutenant Commander Uhura in the original Star Trek television series and movie franchise.

Employment

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

Paramount Pictures, Inc.

Favorite Color

Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Nichelle Nichols' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her home in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Nichelle Nichols lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Nichelle Nichols describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Nichelle Nichols describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Nichelle Nichols talks about how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Nichelle Nichols describes her parents' relationship

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Nichelle Nichols lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her sisters' acting skills

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Nichelle Nichols remembers her neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Nichelle Nichols remembers her neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Nichelle Nichols recalls Betsy Ross Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Nichelle Nichols describes her experiences at Betsy Ross Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her early appreciation for the arts

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Nichelle Nichols remembers her scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her early dance training

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Nichelle Nichols recalls developing an interest in tap dance

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Nichelle Nichols remembers combining ballet and tap dance techniques

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her training under Carmencita Romero

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Nichelle Nichols remembers completing high school while dancing professionally

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her early experiences of religion

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Nichelle Nichols recalls dancing at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Nichelle Nichols remembers segregation in downtown Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her parents' support for her aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Nichelle Nichols recalls dancing at a resort in Hawaii

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Nichelle Nichols remembers her decision to focus on singing

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her singing career

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Nichelle Nichols remembers her marriage to Foster Johnson

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Nichelle Nichols recalls the birth of her son

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Nichelle Nichols remembers developing her acting talent

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Nichelle Nichols recalls singing in the chorus of 'Porgy and Bess'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Nichelle Nichols recalls her appearance in 'Kicks and Company'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Nichelle Nichols remembers her role on 'The Lieutenant,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Nichelle Nichols remembers her role on 'The Lieutenant,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Nichelle Nichols remembers working with James Baldwin

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her role in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Nichelle Nichols recalls being offered a part on 'Star Trek'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Nichelle Nichols remembers creating the role of Uhura

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Nichelle Nichols recalls working with Leonard Nimoy

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Nichelle Nichols talks about Gene Roddenberry's commitment to diverse casting

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Nichelle Nichols recalls the casting of William Shatner and DeForest Kelley on 'Star Trek'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Nichelle Nichols remembers the pranks on the set of 'Star Trek'

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Nichelle Nichols recalls the challenges during the first season of 'Star Trek'

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Nichelle Nichols describes meeting the network producers of 'Star Trek'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Nichelle Nichols talks about the appeal of 'Star Trek'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Nichelle Nichols recalls the minority guest appearances on 'Star Trek'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Nichelle Nichols talks about the racial commentary in 'Star Trek'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Nichelle Nichols talks about the representation of women on 'Star Trek'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Nichelle Nichols recalls her experiences of discrimination on the set of 'Star Trek,' pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Nichelle Nichols recalls her experiences of discrimination on the set of 'Star Trek,' pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Nichelle Nichols remembers filming the first interracial kiss on television

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Nichelle Nichols recalls her decision to continue acting on 'Star Trek'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Nichelle Nichols remembers the cancellation of 'Star Trek'

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Nichelle Nichols recalls the syndication of 'Star Trek'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Nichelle Nichols talks about the 'Star Trek' animated series

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Nichelle Nichols describes her film work after the original 'Star Trek' series

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Nichelle Nichols talks about the Trekkie phenomenon

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Nichelle Nichols recalls the growth of the 'Star Trek' franchise

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Nichelle Nichols remembers writing her autobiography

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Nichelle Nichols describes her efforts to recruit black women as astronauts

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Nichelle Nichols talks about the Kwanza Foundation

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Nichelle Nichols describes the aims of the Kwanza Foundation

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her hopes for the future

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Nichelle Nichols reflects upon her life

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Nichelle Nichols reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Nichelle Nichols talks about her family

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Nichelle Nichols describes how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

5$5

DATitle
Nichelle Nichols recalls dancing at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago, Illinois
Nichelle Nichols remembers creating the role of Uhura
Transcript
It became--and, and, and Carmencita [Carmencita Romero], oh took us downtown and, and she called my mother, I guess this is so--I was fourteen now and I came and I'm walking home from high school [Englewood High School, Chicago, Illinois] with my books you know, and my mother's knocking on the window, "Come in here." And, "What?" And she said, "You need to get downtown, Carmencita Romero at the, at the, at the hotel [Sherman House, Chicago, Illinois] and, and she wants you down there, and she said, 'Ms. Nichols [Lishia Parks Nichols] have her look grown, not just those'--." Well my oldest sister [Marian Nichols Michaels] had just given me, we wore the same size shoe and she had just given me my first heels but I couldn't wear them. My, my mother said they'll have to be saved 'til you're old enough right? And I'm fourteen and, and mother, and I'm getting ready to leave and I'm looking as old as I can and you know sophisticated as I can, and mother brings out these heels and said, "Try them on," and they worked perfectly with my--and Carmencita had said, "Get her down here to the hotel immediately," because--from school, and I was, you can't imagine my first pair of heels and I got on the, the elevated line ["L"], which went down to subway and went to the hotel and I walked in with this beautiful suit that my sister, older sister, one of my older sisters had given me and these high heels that the other one had given me and the gloves and my hair was long so, but it was always worn in school in braids and you know like that, and my other--combed it down for me and I walked in there and Carmencita and, and the Ernie Byfield and, and everybody was up on the stage and, and I'm going gulp, and I straightened my shoulders and I walked up, and the stage is not like that, it's like that, and I walked up on it and they're sitting in chairs on, talking on the stage and because she doesn't have to audition, she already, he already knows how, how great she is and so I go up there and I don't--it doesn't occur to me that there's steps on, over either side, so I go up (laughter) and I and I, and I put my hand out, Ernie Byfield goes--Carmencita was, everything she could do to keep from a--keep a straight face and I, I was a really accomplished dancer at that time and I just raised up and sat on the stage and, "Thank you, sir," and (laughter) talking to the owner of half of downtown Chicago [Illinois] and, and that was it. He said if she's with the, with the--and Carmencita was the lead and, and, and Carmencita [sic. Ernie Byfield] said, "Now if you could just find me someone to match you," and I had, and she had two big guys, magnificent dancers with magnificent bodies and that was Carmencita Romero and her dancers, and her dancers were, and that was my first professional job, and of course I had to have my mother or father [Samuel Nichols, Sr.] or both come to the--to take me down--so after school, and I had to keep whatever grade that I had in school, I had to maintain it. Well I happened to have an A. I been working so hard towards that A and I've got an A and I've gotta maintain an A and, which is the highest score, you know; and, and I did because I was--anything to work, to be able to work at that wonderful profess- as a professional.$I often wondered how--who named your character, Uhura?$$ Who named what?$$Your character in 'Star Trek,' Uhura, who named--$$ Guess who?$$I would guess you, but I'm not sure.$$ Of course. That was one of those lunches (laughter). That was one of those lunches and, and he says (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Where does the name--$$--but I want her to be different. I don't want her to be ordinary and, and I said, "Well, she can be from, from--her parents can be from South Africa," right? And so he said he liked that. And, and that, that keeps her in two places you know as an American black and as the parents that have that history.$$Yeah, so the African root and--$$ The African roots yes, and everything and yet she's very American, you know. And, and, oh you're bringing up stuff that I'd forgotten; and Gene was very excited about it and he had--oh my god, he's an incredible man, Gene Roddenberry, and he took me to lunch and we talked about, and it was early, too early for lunch. It was about ten o'clock instead of the noon time that, and it was right around the corner from where we're working and, and he would pick my brain, that I found out later, that's what he was doing you know. I mean he was so obvious about it you know. He wanted me to know and, and we were a great team together. We were a great team together.$$So you, what you're saying here is that you know-- not only played the role of Uhura--$$ Um-hm.$$--you developed the role of Uhura.$$ Oh yes and, and I, I told him who her parents came from and how she got that name and, and the whole thing. He let me--when it came to that character he let me, he gave me full, full range. He gave me full range. It was just amazing and of course I was so excited you know. I'm just (makes sounds) and, "Guess what else I am thinking?" And he used just about everything, and I was just so excited and he says, "And guess who's gonna play her?" And I said, "Well it better be me" (laughter), but at first to tell you the truth, I wasn't thinking, I wasn't thinking as I was working then, yeah.