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2 insurance companies end relationship with Maine agency after racist Juneteenth sign

Residents in Millinocket, Maine, say they are outraged after an insurance agency displayed a racist sign remarking on the new Juneteenth federal holiday.
Lisa Groelly
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Alura Stillwagon
Residents in Millinocket, Maine, say they are outraged after an insurance agency displayed a racist sign remarking on the new Juneteenth federal holiday.

Updated June 22, 2022 at 5:56 PM ET

Residents in the town of Millinocket, Maine, say they are outraged and disappointed after a local insurance agency displayed a racist sign remarking on the Juneteenth holiday. Progressive and Allstate are terminating their relationships with the agency, according to representatives of the insurance companies.

"Juneteenth ~it's whatever... We're closed. Enjoy your fried chicken & collard greens," the sign stated in a large font. It was taped to the front of Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency in Millinocket on Monday. The small town sits about three hours outside Portland and some 50 miles away from the U.S.-Canada border.

An image of the racist sign was shared online Monday, gaining the attention of thousands across social media.

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.

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?"

Progressive spokesperson Jeff Sibel wrote in an email that the company is "aware and appalled by the sign" and that it is terminating its 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," Sibel wrote. "The sign is in direct violation of that commitment and doesn't align with our company's Core Values and Code of Conduct."

The Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency did not respond to NPR's request for comment.

Millinocket resident Alura Stillwagon originally posted the image on Facebook with a caption reading, "The racism in Millinocket is real."

Stillwagon, who first heard about the sign from her mother, Lisa Groelly, says she had to do a double take when seeing an image of it.

"I had to read it more than once because I thought it was something [my mom] saw on Facebook. But when she said it was a business [in town], I was immediately disgusted," Stillwagon told NPR. "People have this idea that Maine isn't very racist and that it's pretty liberal. But up north, it's not like that at all."

Groelly, who lives in Millinocket, says when her friend told her about the sign displayed outside the business, she was speechless, thinking it must have been a joke.

"I'm hoping that people will wake up and realize that this is not OK. People need to know their history. They need to realize that there was a lot of suffering and that this holiday is warranted — and it's needed," said Groelly in an interview with NPR.

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."

Allstate said in a statement to NPR on Wednesday: "We are terminating our contract with this independent agent. Our commitment to Inclusive Diversity and Equity is non-negotiable and we take action when individuals violate our code of conduct."

The state of Maine celebrated Juneteenth as an official holiday for the first time on Monday. Governor Janet Mills signed a bill into law last year declaring the annual commemoration a paid state holiday. This month, Mills signed a proclamation declaring June 19 as Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is an annual commemoration celebrated on June 19 that marks the United States' second independence day.

On this day in 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger — who had fought for the Union — arrived at Galveston, Texas, with nearly 2,000 troops to announce that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were finally free.

President Biden signed a bill in 2021 to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.