Donald Trump’s bleak inauguration speech has attracted attention for, among other things, employing the phrase “America first”.
The term was popularised by the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and is associated with anti-Semitic and Nazi sympathisers who sought to keep the US out of World War II.
But Lindbergh and the America First Committee are not the only 20th century white nationalists to use the term. The small band of racist whites in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, employed a version of it as protest against the onset of decolonisation and the spread of black rule across Africa.
In the late 1950s, William J. Harper, who was also known for his daring aviation exploits in World War II, made waves by using the slogan Rhodesia first, last, and always.
A few years later, Harper struck one of the most dramatic blows for white supremacy as a signatory to Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence. He served as Minister of Internal Affairs in the first cabinet of Prime Minister Ian Smith.
Smith famously vowed that the tiny white minority would rule for 1 000 years.
But when Harper first popularised the slogan, which was generally shortened to “Rhodesia first”, he was leading the opposition Dominion Party. The party sought full independence from British rule. It was also at the vanguard of resistance against any movement for reform or genuine integration between settlers and colonial subjects.
The term was particularly controversial as Southern Rhodesia was then governed within the larger Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. This also included contemporary Zambia and Malawi. By advocating for Southern Rhodesian primacy, Harper not only made it clear that he was opposed to majority rule, but also to the federal structure of governance to which Southern Rhodesia was constitutionally bound.
The slogan prompted a split in 1960 between the territorial branch of the Dominion Party, of which Harper was the leader, and the federal branch, led by Winston Field, who became Southern Rhodesia’s prime minister two years later. Field was subsequently booted aside in 1964 for being too moderate.
Harper and his far-right allies sought to appeal to the white Rhodesian electorate by taking a stand against African liberation and the winds of change sweeping into the colony.
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