COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - At a time when civil rights tensions were at their highest, Columbus native Mary Buckner decided she would defy the odds against her and pursue an unprecedented career in law.
News leader 9's Georgia Ellyse went one-on-one with the first African American and woman Recorder's Court judge in Columbus to find out what it took to lead the way as a trailblazer in the Columbus Judicial system.
Segregation, racism and Jim Crow were not enough to defer Mary Buckner's dreams of becoming a lawyer.
"I knew in high school I wanted to be a lawyer," Buckner said. "It really started because of the racial tensions and I wanted to make a difference."
Buckner graduated from carver high school in 1966 and was among the first African American students to attend Mercer University. In fact, she was one of 24 students chosen to integrate the prestigious Macon, Georgia University.
"I sat down in class they would move over," Buckner said.
Graduating with a degree in History and Political Science, Buckner's pursuit didn't stop there. She attended Emory University Law School from 1970-1971 and transferred to Mercer University, Walter F. George School of Law.
Determined, she graduated in 1973… but it wasn't an easy journey.
"In law school one of the professors thought I was a maid," Buckner said.
In 1975 Buckner began practicing at the law firm of Bishop and Hudlin in Columbus, at a time when there were very few women lawyers.
In 1978 she became partner of Bishop and Buckner in 1978, and continued until 1992 when her partner, Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., was elected to the United States Congress.
"She was a great person to work with," Bishop said. "Mary Buckner was one of those people who helped lay the foundation."
In February 1984, history was made when an African American woman was appointed to serve as Judge of Recorder's Court for the first time in Columbus.
"I was in the car and it scared me really," Buckner said. "I was honored and proud but I never thought… It was a challenge but I knew I could do the job."
The judgeship became full time in 1991 and inspired many African American women in law like Dorothy Williams who owns her own firm and focuses on civil cases.
"When I see her I see a person of significant history," Williams said.
So how did she do it, maneuvering through, climbing the ranks during a time when all odds were against her?
"One thing about me, I had a strong upbringing so I never put it in my mind that I was inferior to anybody," Buckner said.
Recorder's Court Judge Mary Buckner still practices law here at her own firm Mary A Buckner attorney at law where she focuses on divorces, real estate closings and adoptions... something Buckner says hits close to home.
"I was a foster parent so my son is adopted," Buckner said.
In fact, Buckner fostered a total of five children she says one at a time.
"I admire how she decided that she wanted to have a child so she adopted herself a son," Williams said.
Receiving numerous awards over the years including the Operation Push Rosa Parks Award, Mary Buckner is held in high esteem throughout the country.
"She forged the way," Williams said.
"I want my legacy to show that I was fair, that I showed compassion on the bench which I strive to do. I know I must follow the law but at the same time I have to be fair and I can show compassion," Buckner said.
It's that same compassion that makes Mary Buckner a pioneer, a trailblazer and a pillar in the Columbus community.
Buckner says in her 40 years of practicing law a lot has changed especially with regard to technology.
She says when she started there were no computer crimes and now those types of crimes are more and more common.
She also says she has seen a significant increase in the number of murder cases here in the valley.