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Maine Insurance Agency Faces Online Backlash After Racist Juneteenth Sign

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  • The Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency of Millinocket, Maine, is facing criticism for posting a racist sign on Juneteenth.
  • Yelp disabled users' ability to post on the company's page.
  • National insurer Progressive cut ties with the local affiliate.

An insurance agency in Millinocket, Maine, is facing online backlash after a photo circulated on Facebook of a sign taped to the business's door on Monday saying, "Juneteenth ~it's whatever... We're closed. Enjoy your fried chicken & collard greens."

The image of the sign at the Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency, an affiliate of national insurer Progressive, was originally shared by a Facebook user named Alura Stillwagon, with the caption, "The racism in Millinocket is real." The original post has been shared more than 200 times, though a similar post by a different user has been shared more than 10,000 times.

"I'm not angry. Anger gets you nowhere. I'm just deeply, deeply disappointed," another Facebook user, Ken Anderson, commented on the post. "In this business, in the companies that let this business broker their products, and in the town of Millinocket, in the state of Maine, and the whole damn country. Deeply disappointed. Why? Because I know we can do better. But we're not trying. And that's the part that cuts deepest."

For many businesses, Monday marked the observance of Juneteenth, a federal holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Army soldiers arrived in Texas and announced the end of slavery to more than 250,000 Black people who remained enslaved even after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The insurance agency did not respond to CNBC's requests for comment, but Melanie Higgins told News Center Maine she was the employee who posted the sign and apologized.

"I would never purposely set out to hurt anyone and I would never purposely set out to hurt my mom's business at all. She had nothing to do with this," Higgins said. "I truly apologize."

Since the image of the sign began circulating online, people have taken to online review site Yelp to condemn the insurance agency, prompting Yelp to disable users' ability to post on the company's page.

"This business recently received increased public attention resulting in an influx of people posting their views to this page, so we have temporarily disabled the ability to post here as we work to investigate the content," an alert on the Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency's Yelp page reads. "While racism has no place on Yelp and we unequivocally reject racism or discrimination in any form, all reviews on Yelp must reflect an actual first-hand consumer experience (even if that means disabling the ability for users to express points of view we might agree with)."

The agency received nearly 90 — largely one-star — Yelp reviews, with many posters condemning the insurance agency as "racist."

Jeff Sibel, a spokesperson for Progressive, said in a statement, "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. 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," Sibel said in a statement.

The chair of the Millinocket Town Council, Steve Golieb, released a statement Tuesday denouncing the sign.

"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 wrote. "There is no place in the Town of Millinocket for such a blatant disregard of human decency."

President Joe Biden and the state of Maine each signed bills into law in June 2021 recognizing Juneteenth as a federal and state holiday.

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