Shirley Elizabeth Barnes is a former United States Ambassador to the African country of Madagascar, 1998-2001. Barnes was nominated by President Bill Clinton on June 29, 1998 and after confirmation by the U.S. Senate, arrived in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, and presented her credentials on August 30, 1998.
Ambassador Barnes was born in St. Augustine, Florida on April 5, 1938. Her father worked as a waiter out of Miami for the Seaboard Airlines Railroad before he moved his family to Saratoga, New York, when Shirley was just five years old. There, her father continued to work as a waiter most of his life, while her mother worked as a teacher, a pianist, and a dressmaker. Eventually, the family prospered and settled in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of New York City.
Barnes attended the Baruch School of Business at the City College of New York and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1956. While in college, she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She also became fluent in the French language while at City College.
Through her church, Barnes was introduced to Crossroads Africa, a recently created student exchange program that connected student service projects in rural villages of various African countries. Through this experience, Barnes travelled to Togo, West Africa, and helped to build schools in 1958.
Upon her return, she decided to return to school to study international affairs and international relations at Boston University in Massachusetts. While at Boston University, a Crossroads Africa colleague connected her to an opportunity in the Congo. She worked there for the Ford Foundation from 1961 to 1965 as a program assistant. During her time in the Congo she worked on education, environmental issues, gender issues, and civil unrest. Returning to the United States in 1965, Barnes worked for the African American Institute, an organization of African Americans who