“I said well why don’t you do an alliteration of it and soften the end with an ‘a’ and it will be Uhura,” Nichols recalled in an interview years later. “[Roddenberry] said, ‘That’s it. That’s your name.’”
Initially frustrated with her lines getting cut and racism she faced on the studio lot, she famously almost quit the series after one season to pursue theater jobs. But she decided to stick with it after a chance encounter with Martin Luther King Jr., who convinced Nichols of the significance of her role to the Black community.
“He said, ‘For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful people,’” she recalled. “And he said, ‘… Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed.’
“And at that moment the world tilted for me,” Nichols said.
Still, she had to continue fighting for lines and for her character’s integrity. In her autobiography, she recalled one new director who insisted that Uhura “do something cutesy” that she “simply would not do.” She held her ground and — after Roddenberry backed her up — the director relented.
“This was not a ‘female role,’” she recalled, using her hands to make air quotes, in Woman in Motion, a 2021 documentary about her life and work with NASA. “And I refused to treat it that way.”
Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, the son of Gene Roddenberry and an executive producer of several franchise series, reacted to her death on Sunday.