Nichelle Nichols had an appearance at the Los Angeles Comic-Con last weekend as part of a three-day farewell celebration to give honor to the Star Trek actress who gave life to a role on a single TV show that sparked inspiration to generations of Black space enthusiasts and science fanatics.
Nichols, who will be celebrating her 89th birthday on December 28, is currently experiencing dementia and fighting through a conservatorship battle between her son, Kyle Johnson, and former manager Gilbert Bell.
As she joined the convention, she had Johnson and her younger sister, Marian Michaels, as her spokesperson. Many also joined like actresses Judy Pace, Beverly Todd, and former astronaut Mae Jemison—the first woman of color to be in space. Nichols was the one who convinced Jenison to join NASA through maximizing her fame to recruit women and minorities into the space program way back in 1970s and 1980s.
Nichols was one of the pioneering women of color as she was given a co-starring role when she played as Lt. Nyota Uhura in the iconic original Star Trek series which was aired in 1966. In 1968, the first interracial kiss on TV was aired as she and co-star William Shatner played in Captain Kirk. Aside from her exposure on the series, she also featured in six of the Star Trek films and became a voice actress in some of the cartoons.
Nichols was asked by NASA to volunteer for a special project from the space agency after the series has been put to a halt. This played a significant role in having Jemison as a recruit, alongside Dr. Sally Ride—the first American female astronaut, and others.
During the convention, Nichols did not hesitate to sign autographs, pose for photo ops, and attend an advanced birthday celebration. Various tribute panels dug into her life, to which Nichols, responded sophisticatedly as she kept mum about it.
In an interview, Jemison expressed her admiration to Nichols, saying, “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,” she added.
On Sunday, NASA Astronaut Appearance Specialist Denise Young gave Nichols a recognition with the agency’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal during a farewell celebration. The actress got off from her wheelchair to receive the award on stage and later, received a standing ovation from other attendees.
Johnson, as his mother’s spokesperson, said, “A life well lived is reward enough, every day, and my mother’s certainly had a life well lived in many respects.”
“This is an exceptional recognition, and I’m, of course, very proud of her for all that she’s done and the value and the meaning of her work. Not just as an actress, but very real and important work that she inspired and enabled people to understand.”
In an interview way back 2011, Nichols shared that she resigned from Star Trek, but when she was able to submit her resignation letter, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to her during an NAACP fundraiser and told her, “Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan.” Luther begged her to remain being on the show and left an impact with his words saying, “When we see you, we see ourselves, and we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.”
That motivated Nichols to continue the show and shared the meaningful event to Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator, who was beyond happy at that time because of Nichols’ return.
Roddenberry’s son, Rod, also gave honor to Nichols at the Comic-Con.
In a video homage, Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays the first African American female captain on a Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, mentioned the encounter, saying, “Nichelle’s legacy can be described as that of sacrificial, heroic contribution.”
Moreover, Martin-Green told that Nichols decided to stay and devote herself entirely for the Black people, people of color, and women; acknowledging the heart, time, and energy Nichols poured out.