Shirek was born in Jefferson, Arkansas and grew up on a farm, the granddaughter of slaves. She moved to Berkeley in the 1940s and immediately gained a reputation for her dedication to civil rights issues. She married Brownlee Shirek and worked as office manager for the Co-op Credit Union.
She was active in the anti-war movement, was a staunch union supporter, founded two Berkeley senior centers, championed HIV/AIDS awareness, and helped organize the Free Mandela movement. She was one of the first elected officials in the United States to advocate for a needle exchange program.
After being forced to retire from her job as director of a Berkeley senior center because of her age, Shirek ran for city council at the age of 73. She served 8 consecutive terms from 1984 to 2004. At the end of her tenure, aged 92, she was one of the oldest elected officials in the State of California.
In 2005, Berkeley sought to name the Berkeley main post office after Shirek, but the attempt was defeated in Congress due to Republican opposition led by Iowa Congressman Steve King, who took issue with her connection to Oakland's Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library and her support for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
- "A Mural in Tribute to Maudelle Shirek". City of Berkeley, California. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
- Liu, Ling (November 2, 2004). "Election 2004: Berkeley City Council Career of Maudelle Shirek Nears an End". UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
- Burress, Charles (November 17, 2000). "Maudelle Shirek: At 89, Berkeley vice mayor keeps up life of activism". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on April 15, 2002.
- Jones, Carolyn (June 18, 2011). "Berkeley: Ex-Councilwoman Maudelle Shirek turns 100". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Scherr, Judith. "Maudelle Shirek, conscience of the Berkeley City Council, dies at 101". Contra Costa Times. Digital First Media. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
- Calvan, Bobby Caina (October 30, 2005). "Congress snubs bid to honor Berkeley's ailing matriarch: Name-change for post office was voted down". The Boston Globe.