Special to Awards Daily courtesy of Keith A. Owens.
Long before Funk Lord George Clinton imagined the character that danced, popped, and spun, all the while expanding the confines of Black imagination and rewiring the sound configurations of the groove – and even before the Holy Mothership = Nichelle Nichols had already been there, done that.
As Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, Nichols was a trailblazer inside a trailblazer; a Black woman in a lead role on a pioneering science-fiction television series about a crew of space explorers who roamed the universe discovering alien civilizations and cultures. Planet by planet, galaxy by galaxy, Star Trek became a pop culture phenomenon unlike any other, and Lieutenant Uhura was part of the reason for that.
For those not old enough to remember, those were the days when kids like me would jump up and down excitedly and scream for Mom and Dad to come and come quick whenever a Black person miraculously appeared on TV in any capacity whatsoever – and that included commercials. The ‘come quick’ was important because we knew that this blessed appearance would last about as long as Black folks lasted on the back roads in Mississippi late at night.
Once upon a time, Black folks on television were as rare as ice cream trucks in the Sahara.
But Nichelle wasn’t just a character on the show, she was cast as an actual part of the crew of the Starship Enterprise with the rank of Lieutenant. She wasn’t the space maid, and she wasn’t comic relief. She wasn’t an embarrassment, and she didn’t make us cringe. She was a Lieutenant on a damned spaceship. And don’t you know it didn’t hurt for young boys with big eyes like mine that the sister was fine as hell in that short skirt and built like …Lord have mercy.
Yeah. I said it. Probably not supposed to these days, but I really couldn’t care less. My eyes worked just fine when I was a kid, and my memory, though not what it once was, works just fine as well. And memories of Nichelle Nichols in that uniform still make me smile.
But what else makes me smile is memories of Nichelle as the First Black Starchild. Because for as long as I can remember, I have been an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy. Maybe I should say rabid fan. And I do believe Lieutenant Uhura had quite a lot to do with that as an intergalactic Afronaut, because seeing her navigating the stars each week on the Starship Enterprise told me that maybe I belonged there too.
Lieutenant Uhura taught me that what was my reality then didn’t have to be my reality forever, and that my imagination was my passport to wherever I wanted to go.
Nichelle Nichols passed away on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the age of 89.
About the Author:
Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, Keith A. Owens is a writer, musician and journalist who has lived in Detroit since January, 1993. He is the author of five works of fiction:The Mayonnaise Murders, Part 1, The Mayonnaise Murders Part 2, Fire and Wanda,and the children’s book, Who Stole the Zmulobeast? He has recently completed The Mayonnaise Murders Part 3, which will be the final volume of the trilogy.
He is also co-founder of Detroit Stories Quarterly, a four-year-old magazine focusing exclusively on Detroit through the lens of science fiction, fantasy, alternative fiction, horror, and just plain fiction. Detroit Stories Quarterly received the Black Authors Matter Award for 2022 in the category of mystery, thriller and suspense. He is also co-author and co-founder of We Are Speaking, a newsletter and podcast produced with his ridiculously talented wife, Pamela Hilliard Owens.