In addition to her Star Trek role, Nichelle also played Nana Dawson on Heroes and Lucinda Winters on The Young and the Restless and had small parts in films and TV movies such as Sharknado 5: Global Swarming in 2017. In recent years, she filmed a few projects that have yet to be released. Last December, she was honored at her final convention appearance by Star Trek fans at Comic-Con.
Nichelle is also known for her singing career and her work with NASA to recruit women and minorities for the space shuttle program.
Nichelle helped Star Trek break barriers. She was the first Black woman to have a continuing co-starring role on television, according to Smithsonian magazine. She also helped create one of the original series’ most talked-about moments.
In a season three episode that aired in 1968, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared interracial marriage legal, the actress’ character, the Starship Enterprise’s communications officer, and William Shatner‘s main character, her boss Captain James T. Kirk, kiss each other (under orders from evil aliens).
“The first thing people want to talk about is the first interracial kiss and what it did for them,” the actress told the Associated Press in 2010. “And they thought of the world differently, they thought of people differently.”
Nichelle had almost quit Star Trek after the first season after receiving offers for Broadway roles—her dream. She told NPR that while mulling the decision over, she attended an NAACP fundraiser, where she met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The actress told NPR that he told her, ‘Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan. I am that Trekkie.'”
She continued, “He complimented me on the manner in which I’d created the character. I thanked him, and I think I said something like, Dr. King, I wish I could be out there marching with you. He said, no, no, no. No, you don’t understand. We don’t need you…to march. You are marching. You are reflecting what we are fighting for.”
Nichelle said she told the civil rights leader that she planned on leaving Star Trek. “He stopped me and said, ‘You cannot do that…For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen.” The actress also said he told her that Star Trek was the only show he and his wife Coretta allow their little children to stay up and watch.