Born in Louisiana and raised in Oregon, Barnes was a gifted athlete, and was an alternate hi-jumper for the 1952 US Olympic Track and Field team. He played football at the University of Oregon (from where he received his B.Sc) and was selected by the National Football League's Green Bay Packers in the 1954 NFL Draft (10th round, 207th overall.) He played 2 games for the Packers in 1956, but had much more success in the Canadian Football League with the B.C. Lions. He played 3 years, from 1962 to 1964, for a total of 30 games and was champion in 1964 (though an injury prevented him from playing in the Grey Cup game.) He also received a Bachelor of Social Work degree from the University of British Columbia.
Barnes worked as a social worker before entering politics. First elected to the British Columbia legislature in 1972, and re-elected four consecutive times, he served the people of British Columbia until 1996. Barnes and fellow NDP MLA Rosemary Brown were the first black politicians elected to a legislative office in British Columbia. He was particularly concerned with issues relating to social justice, human rights, and poverty.
Elected Speaker of the Legislature in 1994, he was also the first black person to hold this position in any Canadian province.
The city of Vancouver has named a park after him in his memory: Emery Barnes Park at 1100 Seymour Street.
Barnes was appointed to the Order of British Columbia in 1995.
He is buried in Robinson Memorial Park Cemetery, in Coquitlam, British Columbia. The headstone shows his full name as "Emery Oakland Barnes."
Constance Barnes, a daughter of his, is an elected member of the Vancouver Park Board.
- Detailed Biography of Emery Barnes from University of Washington
- Gail Ito, Barnes, Emery (1929-1998) at blackpast.org
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