My family history offers a lesson in why Confederate flags should be honored and respected and returned to Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University.
The Guerrant family is descended from French Huguenots (Protestants). My family’s original name was Guerin. They settled in Virginia (Manakin, outside Richmond) in 1699 and changed their name to the Anglicized version of Guerrant.
The Guerins barely escaped the Catholic-backed persecution, which included torture and death, in France. The Huguenots wanted to live and worship in peace. They wanted to practice their own faith. The Catholic Church backed and supported the persecution, torture and murder of French Protestants. My ancestor Henri Guerin was tortured and died on the “wheel,” a torture device used in public executions.
Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) celebrated the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew and the killing of tens of thousands of French Protestants. He ordered a Te Deum to be sung as a special thanksgiving and had a medal struck with the motto “Ugonottorum strages 1572” — Latin for “slaughter of the Huguenots.” It showed an angel bearing a cross and sword next to dead Protestants.
If I see a Catholic Church, a Knights of Columbus symbol or a crucifix, perhaps I should be offended. These symbols represent the persecution by Catholics of my ancestors. Perhaps I must demand the removal of these symbols. I shouldn’t have to be offended by the icons of a past, persecuting Catholic Church.
But I don’t buy into the idea that I should ask my Catholic neighbors to remove their symbols. Everyone has a perspective of what is beautiful and meaningful to him or her and what is not. Catholics revere their Catholic symbols.
My ancestors died and suffered for their Christian beliefs. Many of my relatives maintain their Protestant theology and heritage, and most of the Guerrants are Calvinist members of the Presbyterian Church.
Confederate flags are historical symbols of my heritage. Men, women and children died for what they believed in by supporting the Confederate States of America, and the Confederate flag represents what they supported. Why can’t we agree that we have differences and show respect for what we find meaningful in our lives and then together display statues, crosses and flags that we hold dear?
University President Kenneth P. Ruscio should put back the Confederate flags in Lee Chapel, where my father, Robert Guerrant, and my uncle, Saunders Guerrant, prayed before classes.
The writer lives in Roanoke, Va.