Business Closes for Juneteenth, With a Racist Message

Maine insurance agency is taking heat for sign referencing a well-worn stereotype
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 23, 2022 9:35 AM CDT
Maine Insurance Agency's Juneteenth Sign Didn't Land Well
The exterior of the insurance agency.   (Google Maps)

Many US businesses shuttered on Monday to mark the federal holiday Juneteenth, but one company in Maine is now taking heat for the way it chose to announce its closing. CNBC notes the import of the holiday, which commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Army soldiers showed up in Texas and announced to hundreds of thousands of Black people that slavery had officially ended two years prior—news they hadn't yet gotten wind of. But that little piece of history wasn't what customers found imprinted Monday on a sign taped to the door of the Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency in Millinocket, an affiliate of Progressive. Instead, as seen in a photo now circulating on Facebook, the insurance firm wrote on its sign, "Juneteenth—it's whatever ... we're closed. Enjoy your fried chicken and collard greens."

The use of the racist trope spurred instant pushback online. "That's pathetic," one critic commented under the Facebook post. "This establishment is sure gonna get a lot of attention ... and not the kind it wants." And that was exactly the case, with Progressive cutting ties with the agency, and people voicing their displeasure under the social media post and on Yelp. CNBC notes the negative reviews of the insurance agency on the reviews site spurred Yelp to temporarily disable comments on the Reed agency's page. "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," the site notes in a pop-up.

Other insurance agencies in Millinocket and neighboring towns tell WABI they've been caught up in the storm as well, with some people attacking them in error because they're located near the Reed agency, have phone numbers close to that of the Reed agency, or have similar-sounding names. Melanie Higgins, an insurance agent at the offending agency (which her mom owns), says she's the one who put the sign up, but that she often puts up lighthearted, "snarky" signs referencing food during store closures. "I truly apologize, I'm mortified that this is even happening," she tells News Center Maine. In a Wednesday Facebook post, Higgins added further apologies, noting that she's "multi-racial" herself, and that she'd had a death in the family that distracted her. "I just wanted to go home and I quickly wrote the note," she wrote. (More Juneteenth stories.)

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