Shirley Hursey was born in a small town (Mound City) in Southern, Illinois to parents Leslie W. and Mary A. Treadwell. She attended Lovejoy Grade School, Carver Junior High, and graduated from Lovejoy Senior High School. She then went on to attend Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. In August, 1955, Shirley married Paul S. Hursey, and to this union, two children were born: a son, Paul S. Hursey, Jr., and a daughter, Shirese S. Hursey.
Shirley started her community service at an early age, particularly in the area of discrimination in housing. In the political arena, she supported Kenneth Stratton in his quest for a seat on the Champaign City Council. After seven years of living in Champaign, Shirley and her family moved to Urbana. There, Shirley became involved in the politics of the City of Urbana and was effective in getting support of the people to elect her husband to the Urbana City Council in 1964. He was the first African-American to fill that position. Together, they were involved in the effort to form the Hays Neighborhood Association to improve the educational opportunities for the children attending the neighborhood school. Shirley was very supportive of Evelyn Underwood, the first African-American elected to the Urbana School Board.
As a member of the Bethel AME Church, Shirley became the Youth Choir Director. She also joined the League of Women Voters, the Council for Community Integration, and other organizations in the church and the community, in an attempt to improve opportunities in education and employment. For the above mentioned efforts, she was honored by the State of Illinois House of Representatives in 2000 and the University of Illinois Y.W.C.A. in 2001.
Shirley also owned and operated the Lincoln Press Bookbindery, where she helped with putting Dissertations and Professional Journals into hard cover.