Barrow County Magistrate Judge Monica Hunter Durden was born and raised in Barrow County in the turbulent 1970s. However, Monica was fortunate enough to be brought up in a family who believed in hard work, love for family and giving back to the community. “My childhood was awesome,” she said. As one of the first black female judges to serve in Barrow County, Monica continues her family’s legacy, imparting wisdom and strong values for generations to follow.
Growing up, one of Monica’s greatest role models was her mother, Emma Hunter. “My mama had such an impact on my life and the reason I am the woman I am today,” she said.
Her mother was an educator in Barrow County for 37 years, and was teaching during the desegregation of schools during the early 1970s.
“She loved her career in teaching and mentoring kids of all ethnicities,” said Monica. “My mama just loved teaching and she continues to pour her wisdom into her family.”
“She was my kindergarten teacher and taught me that as a black female, I would face some unique challenges, but to always work hard, have confidence, and most of all, pray to God.”
Monica said her mother has the heart of an angel. “I’m 50 and have never heard my mom say one cuss word.”
Monica also attributes many of her values to her grandmothers, Ruth Thomas Hunter and Lilly Mae Jennings Stephens, who taught her to own her self-worth by not selling herself short and always holding herself accountable.
Her teachers, Margie Berry, Mary Sims, Dorothy Teasley, Emma Evans and Stephanie Hines Smith, also taught Monica some of her most treasured values.
“I am somebody and I can accomplish anything I put my heart and mind to.”
Above all, however, Monica was particularly enamored with her father, Herbert Hunter Jr., who she said inspired her greatly. Her father was one of the first black police officers for the City of Winder and Barrow County during the late 1960s.
A jack of all trades, Monica said her father could do anything, including building their family home. He also worked at John Mansfield before getting into law enforcement, helped at the funeral home and started The Brotherhood Club in Statham, which still exists today.
Monica remembers riding into town with her father as a little girl in the 1970s and seeing a group of men standing at the stop sign at what is now Burger King handing out papers.
“The men were dressed in what I thought back then, were costumes that I had never seen before,” she said. “It was the KKK.” “I remember my dad rolling down his window and taking the paper that they were handing out. As we drove away, I waived to the uniquely dressed individual standing on my side of the truck.”
Monica said she and her siblings were raised to love all people, no matter their skin color. “We had friends of all cultures,” she said.
It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that, “it really hit me that racism actually existed,” she said.
“The biggest fight in school led to the blacks against the whites. It was all because a black male was dating a white female, which our cultures had not gotten accustomed to.”
In the late ‘80s, while volunteering at the Russell Nursing Home with her mother, Monica was called the “N-word” by some of the elderly white residents.
“I would get upset and my mother would comfort me and tell me that a lot of them didn’t know any better and for me not to treat them any differently.”
She also recalls being treated poorly when she ran for magistrate judge against a white woman. Despite the racism she encountered, Monica was bold enough to run again during the next term.
“I’m going to prove to the people the nastiness isn’t going to stop me,” she said of running a second time.
Looking back on her life, the experience that impacted her most was losing her father, who died suddenly from a massive heart attack when he was only 45 years old. Still in high school at the time of his death, Monica was crushed by the loss. “I lost my daddy, the man that I loved and adored.”
That same day, she had a track meet.
“I remember Coach Isaiah Berry and Coach Cook Holiday saying, ‘You don’t have to run sweetheart.’ But I did it. I ran in tears and received love and support from the coaches and teammates at the end of my race.”
“That’s how my journey has been as a black female, I’ve run many obstacles with tears running down my face, but my family and close friends have always been there cheering me on.”
“ I just want my three children to always honor the path that was paved by our ancestors and gain an appreciation for our lives. Our freedom would not have been if it were not for their sufferings and accomplishments.”
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