RAVEN WILKINSON

BORN: February 2, 1935 - DIED: December 17, 2018

HISTORY: Born and raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Harlem, NY, Ms. Wilkinson officially began training at age 9 at the Swoboda School which later became known as the Ballet Russe School. When Anne Raven Wilkinson was just 20 years old, she became the first African American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company - Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo of New York City. She was promoted to soloist during her second season with the troupe, and remained with the company for six years. She performed with the company across the U.S. While this was indeed an honor, especially in light of being rejected twice to even join the company, it came with many difficult challenges while on tour.
While performing with the Company in 1957 in the segregated South, she often had to wear white makeup onstage to conceal her racial identity. The Ku Klux Klan would interrupt her performances looking for the Nigra. She was not allowed to stay at hotels in Atlanta with her Company. Instead, she had to stay at hotels for "coloreds only". Racial discrimination became a problem for her both professionally and personally. For her safety, once her racial identity became known, she was not allowed to participate in performances in Southern cities again. In 1961 she was exhausted by years of discrimination and left the Ballet Russe Company. It was in 1966 she got a soloist contract with Dutch National Ballet and traveled the Nerherlands for seven years. In 1974 she returned to the United States where between 1974-1985 she performed with the New York City Opera as a character dancer and actor.
She was an idol & mentor to so many dancers; most notably Misty Copeland. However, she didn't see herself as an idol.....she just loved to dance. She often stated what kept her going was hope: hope for herself, hope for everyone else and she had hope for the beautiful artistic expression - not just ballet but dance.
PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW: THE INCOMPARABLE MS. WILKINSON