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Barnes, Emery (1929-1998)

Social worker, politician and professional football player Emery Barnes spent much of his life helping the disadvantaged in society and working for worldwide human rights and world peace.  Barnes was first elected to the British Columbia legislature in 1972 and was elected Speaker of the Legislature in 1994, serving in the provincial legislature until 1996. He was the first black person to hold the position of Speaker in any Canadian province.

Barnes was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on December 15, 1929. At the age of 12 he and his family moved to Oregon. During his high school years in Oregon he became an outstanding athlete, excelling in high jump, track and field.  He was an alternate high jumper for the 1952 U.S. Olympic Track and Field team. He also played football at the University of Oregon, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1954 he was drafted by the National Football League (NFL), to play for the Green Bay (Wisconsin) Packers. After a relatively short NFL career he moved to the Canadian Football League and the British Columbia (B.C.) Lions in 1957.

During Barnes" football career, he did post-graduate studies in Social Work at the University of British Columbia. In 1964 he began a career as a social worker in Vancouver until he entered politics in 1972. Barnes and fellow New Democratic Party legislative assembly member Rosemary Brown were the first black candidates elected to a legislative office in British Columbia. They were part of a political coalition that formed the first social democratic government in British Columbia.

Barnes political platform was dedicated to helping the disadvantaged, with an emphasis on worldwide human rights, social justice and poverty. At one point in his political career, realizing how difficult life was for many of the people in his district and wishing to bring attention to poverty in the area, he moved to downtown East Vancouver and limited himself to living on an amount equal to that received by welfare recipients.   

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