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Maine insurance agency facing avalanche of criticism for racist Juneteenth sign

A woman decorates her car with a sign during a car parade to mark Juneteenth on Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif.
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu
A woman decorates her car with a sign during a car parade to mark Juneteenth on Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif.

An insurance agency in Maine is facing an avalanche of criticism after it posted a sign on Juneteenth that told those celebrating the new federal holiday to “enjoy your fried chicken & collard greens.”

A Facebook post showing a picture of the sign — posted on the door of Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency in the town of Millinocket, Maine — has been shared more than 11,000 times since Monday.

The full sign reads: “Juneteenth, it’s whatever … we’re closed. Enjoy your fried chicken and collard greens.”

The sign drew widespread criticism from residents of the Maine town and from users online who noted it appeared to be mocking Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free. It became an official federal holiday last year.

Steve Golieb, the chair of the Millinockett Town Council, condemned the sign on Tuesday, writing in a statement posted on Facebook that it was “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.”

“There is no place in the Town of Millinocket for such a blatant disregard of human decency,” Golieb wrote. “The town does not accept or endorse anything short of inclusivity, and we invite any and all to come discover the wonderful things that our community offers.”

Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency issued an apology for the sign through its employee, Melanie Higgins, who said in a statement she typically posts “snarky” signs on the door outside the office around holidays or other big events.

She said the owner of the business, Karen Hansen, had nothing to do with her sign. Hansen is Higgins’s mother and the two are the only employees at the small business, which Hansen founded more than 30 years ago.

Higgins acknowledged the sign was “flippant” and perceived as racist “because of the terminology I used regarding foods that are associated with ethnicities.”

Associating fried chicken with Black Americans is a common racist trope.

“My only explanation I can offer is I had a death in my family and I just wanted to go home and I quickly wrote the note. I can assure you all truly, I would never in any facet of the word be characterized a racist. Nor would I ever purposely incite such acts,” she wrote in her statement. “I am so sorry for pain I have caused and the negative attention it has brought.”

Still, the apology came too late for two of the largest insurance companies in the nation. Both Progressive and Allstate told News Center Maine they were severing ties with the local insurance agency.

Tags Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency Juneteenth Maine Racist sign

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