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Women’s History Month Salute to Grace “Nichelle” Nichols
I try to stay away from celebrities when it comes to talking about women in history and the reason is clear to me. Celebrities receive sensory overload in the media.
They are the preferred “media darlings” and faces for the whole world to see while many “unsung heroes” are left behind–doing the magnificent, yet living out their lives in total or near-obscurity, mainly because they like it that way. They do what they do because they love it, not to get attention. However, there is a very special reason why this particular woman of the month is near and dear to my heart.
Her name is Grace Dell “Nichelle” Nichols, and this Women’s History Month, I choose to celebrate her; not because of her celebrity, but because she played a very difficult role as a black woman on television. During a time in America’s history when black people on television were few and far between; when black women, in particular, were highly stereotyped (not that that has changed much); and when the unthinkable happened, and she (her character, that is) “kissed” Captain James T. Kirk on then-popular TV show, Star Trek.
Image via Wikipedia
The whole nation went into an uproar over that infamous kiss, and it was said that Ms. Nichols actually received quite a few death threats because of it.
The story goes that she (Lt. Comdr Nyota Uhura) and Capt. Kirk were actually “possessed” by some aliens who forced them to dance and kiss, but the backstory is that Hollywood was trying American audiences to see how far they could stretch the truth – that some white men actually fall in love with black women.
In real life, however, it was a different story altogether. Ms. Nichols was not the only cast member of Star Trek who actually had no personal like of leading man, William “Bill” Shatner. It was a well-known fact that none of his co-stars cared for him very much off screen, and as Maya Angelou tells us in her book “A Song Flung Up to Heaven,” Ms. Nichols almost quit the show because of Shatner’s constant superstar-diva-type ranting’s.
Ms. Nichols’ place in history is not only written in stone because she was one of only a hand full of women on television playing a non-stereotypical role that marked her as confident, capable, mature, and smart; but because when Martin Luther King, Jr. heard that she was going to quit the show, he phoned her, personally, and asked her to please stay. His words to her, paraphrased, was that she was a very important role model, and that her leaving the show would mean the loss of something very important to young black girls … that of seeing someone who looked like them depicted in a positive and professional light on television, a rarity back then, as it is now. As a matter of fact, she was not the “typical” female starlet, period.
For that reason, this Women’s History Month, I choose to salute Ms. Nichelle Nichols. And to thank her for staying on the show, for keeping it positive for black women, and for all women, everywhere. She represented all the way around.
Official Website: http://uhura.com/
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