An insurance agency in Maine is getting a ton of attention right now — just probably not the kind they wanted.
On Monday (June 20), Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency (a Progressive affiliate in Millinocket) posted a sign in their window to let customers know they were closed in observance of Juneteenth, a new paid state holiday.
Juneteenth is also known as “Freedom Day” since June 19, 1865, commemorates the emancipation of slavery in the United States. The newly approved holiday was honored on June 20 since Juneteenth fell on a Sunday. The way the agency chose to inform their customers of the closure has many upset.
A displayed closed sign taped to the establishment’s window read: “Juneteenth. It’s whatever… We’re closed. Enjoy your fried chicken and collard greens.”
Alura Stillwagon, a Millinocket resident, originally posted an image of the sign on Facebook on Monday with a caption reading, “The racism in Millinocket is real.”
Stillwagon’s mother, Lisa Groelly, who also lives in Millinocket, initially told her daughter about the sign and said she heard about the sign from a friend and immediately thought it was a joke.
The insurance agency has faced heavy criticism online, with people leaving one-star reviews on Google and Yelp, some of which have since been removed.
The person responsible for the racist Juneteenth sign is employee Melanie Higgins. She confessed to a local Maine newspaper that she had created the sign. Although she insisted that she was not trying to be racist – only “snarky” – she failed to defend herself from the onslaught of critics.
“It says they offer umbrella insurance. I think they’re going to need a bigger umbrella,” a commenter wrote on the original post.
One review written on Yelp says: “@Progressive – is this really a company that you want representing you? Or is Progressive a company that believes in racism?”
Steve Golieb, chair of the Millinocket Town Council, released a statement on Tuesday regarding the incident:
“It is deeply saddening, disgraceful and unacceptable for any person, business, or organization to attempt to make light of Juneteenth and what it represents for millions of slaves and their living descendants,” Golieb said in his statement. “There is no place in the Town of Millinocket for such a blatant disregard of human decency.”
Progressive and Allstate, two of the nation’s largest insurance carriers, told NEWS CENTER, Maine, on Wednesday that they are terminating their relationships with Harry E. Reed Insurance Co.
“We’re aware and appalled by the sign recently posted at the Harry E Reed Agency and are terminating our relationship with the agency. At Progressive, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are fundamental to our Core Values,” Progressive spokesperson Jeff Sibel wrote in an email. “We’re committed to creating an environment where our people feel welcomed, valued and respected and expect that anyone representing Progressive to take part in this commitment. The sign is in direct violation of that commitment and doesn’t align with our company’s Core Values and Code of Conduct.”
“We are terminating our contract with this independent agent,” Allstate said in an email to NEWS CENTER Maine. “Our commitment to Inclusive Diversity and Equity is non-negotiable and we take action when individuals violate our code of conduct.”
Watch the video report here: NewsCenterMaine/Youtube