Yeah, I’m a bit Trek-obsessed, but only with the original series. It aired in the ’60s, with performers mostly in their 20’s and 30’s. So, understandably and regrettably (and regrettedly, if that’s a word), age is catching up with the only TV heroes I ever really cared about. Nichelle Nichols, who quietly made history as, “the first nonstereotypical role portrayed by a black woman on television,” (according to Rev. King), is in the hospital after a mild stroke. It looks like she’ll recover, mostly. I hope so. But one cannot ignore that a person who successfully and convincingly portrayed a courageous young explorer, going where no one “had gone before,” is 82 years old today. And no one lasts forever.
Gone already are DeForest Kelley (Leonard “Bones” McCoy, at 79), James Doohan (Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, at 85), and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. [first name unpronounceable] Spock, at 83). I’m only 56, so it’s a little early to start riffing on the theme of how others’ passings make you contemplate your own mortality. Owing to that age difference, however, when Nichols was making history, my peers and I were not yet ten years old. Dr. King, almost 40 then, knew what was happening. But my friends and I–watching stories of adventure and exploration by a multinational, multigender, multiracial crew–were too young to see what Dr. King saw. When Nichelle Nichols was making history, we didn’t know it. As a result, a few of us grew up thinking that a black woman in a position of authority and responsibility was the norm. (I should acknowledge here that this also means some of us still had to learn, later, that women and people of color were actually denied access to such positions, but I think most of us did.)
So, let’s not dwell on mortality today. Rather, while we send her our good wishes, let’s look at the fact that a brave young actor, now a member of our senior class, did something with her skill and her life that helped us all make one step forward. There are a lot more steps to be taken. But, today I want to say that I am personally grateful that, nearly fifty years ago, Nichelle Nichols really did take a few folks like me, where no one had gone before.