Keyes, Alan L. 1950—

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Alan L. Keyes 1950

Politician, lecturer, author

An Early Champion of Conservative Causes

A Thirst for Political Office

An Unlikely Presidential Candidate

Selected writings


After a decade of service in the U.S. Department of State, two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate, and a vigorous campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination, Alan Keyes still refused to describe himself as a politician. Calling himself instead a moral populist, Keyes has used the fiery oratorical style of an old-time revival preacher to bring his message of conservative family values to the American public. It is a message that captured the interest of many people disillusioned with the state of American society.

An Early Champion of Conservative Causes

Keyes was born the youngest of five children on August 7, 1950, in New York City. As a member of a military family, Keyes lived in several locations in the United States and Italy during his childhood. The Keyes family stressed education, and Alan was a high achiever from the start. At his high school in San Antonio, Texas, Keyes was president of the student council. By the time he was a teenager, Keyes had already embraced conservative political views. At the age of 16, he was elected

president of the American Legion Boys Nation, the first African American ever to hold that post. He used that position to deliver resounding speeches in support of the Vietnam War. Keyess speech The Blessings of Liberty, the Blessings of Life won the Legions annual contest during his junior year in high school.

Upon graduation from high school, Keyes enrolled at Cornell University, where he became a disciple of Allan Bloom, author of the best-selling book, The Closing of the American Mind.In 1969, Keyess freshman year, black militants took over the student center at Cornell. Keyes chose to speak out against the takeover. Taken aback by the tactics employed by the militants, he quit the universitys African American Society. Keyess opposition to the militancy on campus did not go over well with some activists, and, after receiving threats from fellow black students, Keyes left Cornell.

After spending a year in Paris, Keyes returned to the United States and enrolled at Harvard. He spent most of the next decade at Harvard, eventually earning a Ph.D. in political science. Upon completing his graduate studies, Keyes went to work for the U.S. State Department

At a Glance

Born Alan Lee Keyes, August 7, 1950, in New York, NY; married Joœlyn Martel, 1981; children: Francis, Maya, Andrew. Education: Harvard University, 8, A., 1972, Ph.D., 1979, Politics: Republicam Religion; Catholic,

U.S. Department of State, foreign service officer, 1978, consular office, Bornbay, ìndia, 197980, desk officer, Zimbabwe, 198081, policy planning staff, 198183, U.S. representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO), 198385, assistant secretary of state for International Organization Affairs, 1985-88; Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from Maryland, 1988, 1992; Citizens Against Government Waste, president, 198991; public speaker, lecturer, 1990-; Alabama A&M University, interim president, 1991; WCBM Radio, Owings Mills, MD, host of nationally syndicated Americas Wake-Up Callshow; candidate for president of the United States, 199596.

Addresses : Office-Aim Keyes for Près. 96,611 Pennsylvania Ave, Ste 1150, Washington, DC 20003-4303.

in 1978. The big break in his diplomatic career came within a couple of years, when he was serving as U.S. vice consul in Bornbay, India. When visiting diplomat Jeane Kirkpatrick came under verbal attack during a meeting, Keyes used his rhetorical skills to defend her. She returned the favor by serving as a mentor to Keyes. By the time Kirkpatrick became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN)in 1981, Keyess career was on the fast track.

His meteoric rise in the State Department included a spot as desk officer for southern African affairs, membership on the departments Policy Planning Council, a stint as ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and a position as assistant secretary of state for International Organizational Affairs. At the State Department, Keyes was an ardent supporter of U.S. president Ronald Reagans policies concerning South Africa, and he was often chosen to articulate the administrations argument against imposing economic sanctions. Because of his support for Reagan, Keyes was frequently criticized by African American leaders. Rep. George Crockett of Michigan, for example, was quoted in the Washington Post as stating that Keyes was merely the black man that the Reagan administration liked to trot out to put forth policies hated by the overwhelming majority of blacks.

In 1987, Keyes was the highest ranking African American in the State Department. However, he abruptly resigned after a confrontation with deputy secretary of state John C Whitehead. The dispute focused around the issue of how U.S. funds should be allocated to different agencies within the UN. Keyes also believed that Whitehead snubbed him at a meeting, addressing questions to his white subordinates rather than directly to Keyes.

A Thirst for Political Office

In 1988, Keyes ran for the U.S. Senate against Maryland Democrat Paul Sarbanes, a popular incumbent in a heavily Democratic state. The Senate campaign was managed by William Kristol, Keyess roommate at Harvard. Kristol, who resigned as Secretary of Education William Bennetts chief of staff to direct the campaign, would later become chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle and a top Republican Party strategist. Keyes lost the election, receiving only 38 percent of the vote. However, he became a more recognizable figure outside of the diplomatic arena.

Keyes served as president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based organization founded by newspaper columnist Jack Anderson and businessman J. Peter Grace, from 1989 until 1991. He also worked extensively as a public speaker, a role in which he had always excelled. According to the Washington Post, Jeane Kirkpatrick referred to Keyes as one of the most dramatically articulate people Ive ever known in my life. Richard Kennedy, a New Hampshire State Representative, remarked in the New York Times that Keyes makes [Jesse Jackson! sound like he stutters. Keyes was able to command as much as $7,500 for each speaking engagement.

In 1992, Keyes made another run for the U.S. Senate against Barbara Mikulski, a Democratic incumbent from Maryland. He was defeated again, receiving only 29 percent of the vote. Following the 1992 election, Keyes was criticized for his handling of campaign finances. Many contributors became angry when it was revealed that Keyes paid himself a generous salary of $8,500 per month from the campaign fund. In addition, a campaign debt of about $44,500 was never repaid, much to the dismay of businesses that had provided Keyess campaign team with essential services.

Following his second unsuccessful Senate campaign, Keyes decided to try a new outlet for his oratorical skills. He became host of his own talk radio show, Americas Wake-Up Call: The Alan Keyes Show, at WCBM Radio in Baltimore. Airing weekdays from 9:00 AM until noon, the show provided Keyes with a forum for his staunchly conservative views on everything from foreign policy to the deterioration of the family structure in the United States.

An Unlikely Presidential Candidate

As a result of his radio show, Keyes was able to drum up tremendous grass roots support for his conservative causes. On March 26, 1995, he formally announced his candidacy for president. By entering the race, Keyes became the first African American in the twentieth century to run for president as a Republican. In his campaign rhetoric, Keyes tended to focus almost entirely on moral issues and the decline of family life in the United States. His key campaign platform was his adamant opposition to abortion. Drawing from his background as both a devout Catholic and a career diplomat, Keyess speeches were likely to invoke the Bible and the Declaration of Independence with equal frequency.

Keyess presidential campaign gained new supporters when a February of 1995 speech he delivered in New Hampshire was replayed on the Christian radio show Focus on the Family by its host, James Dobson. The speech, in which Keyes decried the decline of morality in the United States, aired on approximately 1,500 stations nationwide and sparked a flood of supportive phone calls to the show. Throughout the campaign, Keyes received his strongest support from members of the Christian right, a group that is almost entirely white and Protestant. To those familiar with Keyes and his constant willingness to go against the political grain, that odd marriage made perfect sense.

Selected writings

Masters of the Dream: The Strength and Betrayal of Black America, Morrow, 1995.


Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, May 20, 1995, p. 1446.

Jet, April 17, 1995, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1995, p. Al.

Multicultural Review, September 1995, pp. 24-27, 53-56.

Nation, October 30, 1995, pp. 500-503.

National Review, May 1, 1995, pp. 30-32.

New Republic, April 17, 1995, pp. 16-18.

New York Times, September 18, 1987, p. A3; March 27, 1995, p. A8; August 9, 1995, p. A16.

Washington Post, September 18, 1987; September 11, 1988; August 25, 1992, p. Bl.

Robert R. Jacobson