Nichelle Nichols is best known for her portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer aboard the starship Enterprise in the 1960s television series Star Trek and six succeeding movies. Her prominent position as a senior bridge officer was groundbreaking, as she was one of the first black women in a major television series not portraying a servant. The role was so groundbreaking that when Nichols considered leaving the show during the first season, Martin Luther King Jr personally urged her to stay, citing her as a vital role model for black children and women all across the country, as well as for other children who would see black people as equals. The season three episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” features a kiss between her character and William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, popularly cited as the first interracial kiss on television.
Despite the cancellation of the series after three seasons, Nichols continued to work for minority visibility by volunteering her time with NASA to recruit female and minority personnel, an endeavor in which she was extremely successful. Through the program she helped to recruit Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and Colonel Guinon Bluford, the first African-American astronaut. Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, has specifically cited the character of Uhura as her inspiration to apply for NASA and comedienne Whoopi Goldberg, who played the Star Trek: The Next Generation character Guinan (a role specifically created for her after she requested to be on the show), has also spoken of Nichols’ influence.