Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura of Star Trek (37149)
Actress and activist Nichelle Nichols (37148)

Actress, singer, dancer, activist, voice artist and author Nichelle Nichols has worn many hats throughout her career, but most fans know and love her best as Lt. Uhura, chief communications officer aboard the Starship Enterprise on TV’s original Star Trek series. This trailblazing role, the first in which an African-American character held a prominent position within a diverse cast on TV, developed into a blossoming, varied career and led directly to her innovative efforts, while under contract with NASA, to recruit more women and minorities into the U.S. space program.

The AmNews caught up with Nichols by phone in the middle of a busy two weeks. On Oct. 9, she became this year’s recipient of the Gordon Parks Choice of Weapons Award, which she received at the sixth annual Gordon Parks Celebration of Culture and Diversity, held at the Gordon Parks Center and museum last weekend in Fort Scott, Kansas. The award was created in 2004 by Fort Scott Community College to honor Parks, the eminent photographer, writer, musician, filmmaker and Fort Scott native. Previous recipients include actor and musician (and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine alum) Avery Brooks; photographer Howard Bingham; Elizabeth Eckford and Ernest Green, two of the “Little Rock Nine”; and Richard Roundtree, star of the Parks-directed film Shaft.

“Over that weekend, there was a celebration of his life and the installation of the museum in Fort Scott,” Nichols told the AmNews. “This town set up a most amazing and beautiful museum in his name. It’s brand-new and absolutely marvelous. Much of his memorabilia are there. The desk that he used for years is there, and pictures that he saved. People, including representatives from Life magazine [where he worked], came from far and wide, and hundreds of people came out to the theater within the grounds to honor me. And on that morning I talked with several high school and college classes who came to hear me speak. It was a wonderful experience. And the exhaustion that I feel right now… gracious!”

Nichols also reflected on a possible deeper connection she may have with Parks, whom she had known socially and who became a friend of the family. “You want to hear something eerie? [When they met,] Gordon kept looking at my beautiful mother, who’s a very dignified and quiet lady, and he finally came over to her and said, ‘You know, Ms. Nichols? You look like family. Where are you from?’ My mother said, ‘Well, I was raised in Dallas, but I was born in Oklahoma and my relatives are in Oklahoma.’ And he said, ‘I too have relatives in Oklahoma. What’s your maiden name?’ And my mother paused and said, ‘Parks.’ And Gordon looked at her and said, [laughing] ‘I can’t handle this. I cannot handle this right now.’” No one ever looked it up…they never pursued it, but he remained a dear friend of ours and a loving mentor to [Nichols’ son] Kyle [Johnson].”

This weekend, Oct. 16-18, Nichols will once again visit with fans and fellow sci-fi stars, including William Shatner, Billy Dee Williams, Brent Spiner and Adam West, at the Big Apple Comic Con, held at Pier 94 in Manhattan, at 711 12th Avenue and 55th Street. Thousands of people are expected to attend the three-day event, which opens Friday at noon and will run until Sunday at 5 p.m. There are also a number of after-hour VIP events featuring movie screenings, meet and greets, as well as musical performances by Grammy-winning artists Naughty By Nature and Taylor Dayne.

Star Trek fans created the Trek conventions, which were the first conventions of [this sort] in 1970,” Nichols said. “I have an argument with George [Takei], who says it’s 1971, but I think it was the end of 1970. We love to argue about it–like it makes a bit of difference!

“And so it grew from then on, and it grew exponentially. You must understand that for the first five or six years, all the Star Trek conventions were produced by fans. And after each one, [someone] thought, ‘Well, gee… if they started one in New York that was so successful that they can do it every year, then we could do one over here in Atlanta or San Francisco or Washington.’ And so it grew into a phenomenon. And now we’re coming to Comic Con, and I came aboard and now it’s quite exciting. It’s really big and really fun. And you get to see all of your friends who you don’t get to see because everybody’s working, and you get to see people that you admire and adore, and it’s reciprocal.”

But the convention schedule, while enjoyable, could definitely become grueling. “I had to kind of put a screeching halt to it at one time because the Star Trek ones, blessedly, took up a lot of our time, but to the degree that within five years there was a Star Trek convention all over the world on any given week. There were times where I hardly had time to [go home] and change my bags and turn around again. And that was fun, but it was also exhausting.”

Tickets for the Big Apple Comic Con are on sale now at www.wizardworld.ticketleap.com/bigapple and by phone at (877) 402-3751. One-day Friday and Sunday tickets are being sold in advance for $25 and three-day passes are available for $45. Get $5 off with code NYC (online only). Saturday tickets are $30. Kids 10 years old and younger are FREE with a paid adult ticket on Sunday only. For a full guest and vendor list and more information on theevent, go to www.wizardworld.com.