Barnes grew up in the Collegeville neighborhood and served in the military in the Vietnam War after high school. He started his real estate career in 1983 and helped found Barnes, Pitts & White Realty two years later. In 1989 he started Barnes & Associates which is now the largest black-owned real estate company in Alabama. He has served as Alabama's Real Estate Commissioner and on the Boards of the Birmingham and Alabama Associations of Realtors. Barnes was a member of the Leadership Birmingham Class of 1986.
In 1991, Barnes joined the Birmingham Planning Commission. From there he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Birmingham Water Works. Immediately he began to address criticisms that the board did not give enough work to minority-owned businesses. He was elected Chairman of the Water Works board in 1998, the first African American to hold that position.
In November 2006 the Birmingham City Council voted 5-1 to give Barnes a fourth term on the board. He was nominated by Joel Montgomery, who cited "experience" as the primary issue, and one that met the requirement of "extreme circumstances" that would allow the Council to bypass its own 1990 regulation limiting service on the Water Works Board to two terms. A lawsuit challenging the Council's interpretation was filed by David Russell, one of the 16 other applicants interviewed for the position.
Barnes was succeeded as board president in 2010 by Jackie Robinson. Barnes also holds a position on the Metropolitan Development Board. He is married to the former Mildred Prather. The couple has four daughters and a son.
- Horn, Ray (2006) "One on One with Business Owner and Water Works Board President, Anthony L. Barnes." Black Business Network Vol. 22, p. 7
- Bryant, Joseph D. (November 22, 2006) "Barnes gets fourth term for six years." Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (January 12, 2007) "Barnes offers no apologies." Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (January 14, 2010) "Jackie Robinson elected chairman of Birmingham water board, replacing Anthony Barnes." Birmingham News