“To be a black ballerina today … is extremely difficult. So I cannot imagine what it was like for Raven in the 1950s,” said Misty Copeland when reflecting on her friend, mentor and shero, Raven Wilkinson.
In 1955, Wilkinson became one of the first black women to dance with a classical ballet company. Pursuing a career in ballet during the Jim Crow Era was no sashay across the stage—Wilkinson had plenty of naysayers, and even a run-in or two with the Ku Klux Klan. Still, Wilkinson danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo for six years, and in that time was even promoted to soloist.
Copeland, who herself made history as the first black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theater, learned who Raven Wilkinson was by watching a documentary on the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.