A Juneteenth sign posted on the front door of the Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency in Millinocket, Maine, has spawned widespread internet outrage, and prompted an apology from someone connected to the business.
The window sign on Monday stated, “Juneteenth ~it’s whatever… We’re closed. Enjoy your fried chicken & collard greens.”
The purpose of the notification was to explain the reason for the business closing. The nation’s newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, has long been celebrated by black Americans in recognition of the first emancipation of enslaved people in Texas in 1865.
The person who photographed the sign, Lisa Groelly, said she recieved a call from her co-worker about it, while she was at work. She said she was in “disbelief,” and had to go to the agency to see it for herself.
“It was shocking,” she said. “I was talking to my co-worker about it, and we were really amazed at the sheer ignorance and stupidity of it.”
Groelly sent the photos to her daughter, Alura Stillwagon, who posted them to Facebook on Monday with the caption, “The racism in Millinocket is real.” Another photo of the sign blew up on the social media website Reddit, with more than 2,000 upvotes.
A woman named Melanie Higgins took responsibility for the sign in a letter posted to Facebook on Wednesday. She apologized for “any misunderstanding and hurt” caused by her “usual, snarky office closure signs and content.” Higgins, who mentioned in the letter that she is multiracial, said she understands the “severity of intolerance” and that the sign had a “seemingly flippant tone.”
While Higgins took accountability for the communication, she deflects away from the sign being racist in calling the response to it a “misunderstanding” and the tone of the sign “flippant.”
Amid widespread criticism of the sign, Allstate insurance terminated its relationship with the company for violating its code of conduct as well as Progressive insurance. A Progressive spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC that the company was “appalled by the sign.”
The outrage was so harsh that it prompted a different insurance agency in Maine with a similar name to issue a statement underscoring its lack of involvement with the incident.
In a statement Tuesday, the chair of the Millinocket Town Council, Steve Golieb, called any “attempt to make light of Juneteenth” and what the holiday represents “deeply saddening, disgraceful and unacceptable.”
“There is no place in the Town of Millinocket for such a blatant disregard of human decency,” Golieb said.
Equally as noteworthy as the racist sign in the agency’s window, is the one hanging above it which reads: “In God We Trust.” It is apparent that in addition to the 1.7% black residents of Maine, city officials and the agency’s former business partners, Higgins did not consider the possibility the sign might be offensive to God. How does one reconcile the decision to post a racist sign in the vicinity of one that glorifies God?