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Wilcox County High School students Mareshia Rucker, left, and three of her friends made international headlines last year when they decided to buck their school’s longstanding tradition of separate proms for black and white students. Ms. Rucker’s dress is on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

BRYAN MELTZ/NYT

There were laughs and tears as a young American woman visited the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to see her red prom dress on display, CTV Winnipeg reports.

Mareshia Rucker, 19, says she never thought her struggles would bring her to Winnipeg.

Rucker and three of her friends at Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Ga., made international headlines last year when they decided to buck their school's longstanding tradition of separate proms for black and white students.

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All four grew up as best friends; Rucker and Quanesha Wallace are black while Stephanie Sinnot and Keela Bloodworth are white.

Their story caught the eye of Matthew McRae, the researcher and curator for the "Inspiring Change" exhibit at the newly opened museum.

He was looking for something to illustrate the civil rights struggle and his first thoughts were of Martin Luther King Jr., but the museum wanted a more current display.

"You wouldn't normally say a prom dress speaks to human rights, and yet it does," said McRae.

Rucker said although students at her school study and attend classes together, the line had been drawn for decades at celebrating prom together.

"They didn't want to go to prom with me because I was black," a weeping Rucker recalled as she stood in front of the exhibit, which also features her date's suit and several artifacts and photos from the integrated prom she and her friends organized.

"That was, like, the worst moment. It was de facto segregation. It was just something that was."

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Their integrated prom was a success, drawing about 200 students. However, many others still chose to attend an invitation-only prom for whites.

One year later, Rucker's school took over organizing the integrated prom but it still wasn't allowed to be held on the school property, a sign Rucker says shows the fight is not over.

But she said she is humbled and proud to be part of the Winnipeg exhibit.

"To even be beside the exhibit that's right there about Nelson Mandela and the apartheid movement — it's like, this is Nelson Mandela!"

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