The actress Nichelle Nichols passed away last month at the age of 89 years old. She was best known for her role as Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original “Star Trek” TV series, which ran from 1966 to 1969.
Lt. Uhura was a distinguished communications officer aboard the USS Enterprise. She was a mathematician, spoke Swahili and was depicted as an object of desire for men across racial groups. The role of Uhura was groundbreaking for Black actors and a historic cultural moment for Black women across the country.
Nichols was born in Robbins, a small town south of Chicago. According to the Robbins History Museum, the town was founded by formerly enslaved African Americans and their descendants. Nichols’ grandfather Samuel G. Nichols was one of the original settlers. He was a white man who was married to a Black woman and was no doubt looking to escape racial hatred and violence in the south.
Robbins was a place where Black folks could create, innovate and prosper. When it was incorporated in 1917, there were just over 300 people living there. By 1939, it was a bustling city of over 2,000 people and boasted many Black-owned businesses, social clubs, and the first Black-owned airfield. Other notable entertainers from Robbins include actress KeKe Palmer and basketball star, Dwayne Wade.
Urban historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas talked with Lisa Labuz about Nichelle Nichols and the trailblazers of Robbins.