“Juneteenth, it is no matter … we’re closed,” the signal learn exterior of the Harry E. Reed Insurance coverage Company, based on a picture posted to social media. “Get pleasure from your fried hen and collard greens.”
Because the agency has confronted backlash over the signal, insurance coverage giants Allstate and Progressive introduced this week they’re dropping the Maine firm, after days of nationwide headlines. An Allstate spokesperson mentioned in an announcement to The Washington Submit that the corporate had terminated its contract with the Harry E. Reed company, which Allstate described as an “unbiased agent.”
“Our dedication to Inclusive Range and Fairness is nonnegotiable and we take motion when people violate our code of conduct,” an announcement from Allstate mentioned.
Progressive spokesperson Jeff Sibel advised The Submit that the corporate was “appalled by the signal lately posted on the Harry E. Reed Company” and that Progressive was additionally terminating its relationship with the agency.
“We’re dedicated to creating an setting the place our individuals really feel welcomed, valued and revered and count on that anybody representing the Progressive to participate on this dedication,” Sibel mentioned in an announcement. “The signal is in direct violation of that dedication and would not align with our firm’s Core Values and Code of Conduct.”
Melanie Higgins, who helps run the insurance coverage agency along with her mom, wrote in a Wednesday letter posted to Fb that she had posted the signal. Higgins apologized “for any misunderstanding or harm that has arisen out of my ordinary, snarky workplace closure indicators and content material” and mentioned she had been reprimanded for her actions.
“My solely rationalization I can provide is I had a loss of life in my household and I simply needed to go house and I rapidly wrote the word,” Higgins wrote, figuring out herself as multiracial. “I can guarantee you all, I might by no means in any side of the phrase be characterised a very racist. Nor would I purposely incite such acts.”
Messages left for the insurance coverage agency weren’t instantly returned on Thursday.
Juneteenth acknowledges the occasions of June 19, 1865, when individuals enslaved in Galveston, Tex., realized they have been free greater than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The subsequent yr marked the primary Juneteenth celebration statewide, and it has been a cultural mainstay since then, with parades, cookouts, artwork exhibits, and video games. Texas was the primary state to make Juneteenth an official vacationin 1979.
After Juneteenth was made a federal vacation final yr, some Black leaders have been involved that its historic significance could be co-opted by blowout gross sales on mattresses or patio furnishings — very similar to Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Some firms have confronted social media blowback for early missteps. Amongst them was the Kids’s Museum of Indianapolis, which marketed a “Juneteenth watermelon salad” in its meals court docket — utilizing one other meals that is been weaponized as a racist trope to belittle Black individuals, based on the Nationwide Museum of African American Historical past and Tradition. The museum then dropped it and issued an apology after blowback.
Some specialists have argued that the hyperlink between the Black group and fried hen stems from a historical past wherein slaved Africans turned their ability at frying chickens into profitable entrepreneurship. Marcia Chatelain, the professor of historical past and African American research at Georgetown College, wrote in The Submit in 2019 that though there’s been an extended affiliation between fried hen and African American meals tradition, the connection has been twisted right into a racist trope.
“Regardless of these constructive connotations, fried hen has additionally usually been used as a prop in common tradition to degrade black individuals,” wrote Chatelain, who later gained the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for historical past. “DW Griffith’s 1915 celebration of the Ku Klux Klan, ‘The Delivery of a Nation,’ included a scene that includes Reconstruction-era black legislators feasting on hen throughout a proper continuing. This pejorative stereotype has remained a part of our common tradition — on a number of events throughout his profession, friends have made tasteless fried hen jokes about Tiger Woodsfor instance.”
About 71 miles north of Bangor, Millinocket is a city of about 4,200 with a inhabitants that is about 98 p.c White, based on census knowledge. Lower than 1 p.c of the inhabitants is Black, knowledge exhibits.
The register entrance of the insurance coverage agency first obtained consideration on Monday, when Millinocket resident Alura Stillwagon posted a photograph of the signal to Fb.
“The racism in Millinocket is actual,” she wrote.
Higgins wrote in her letter that she has posted closure indicators with “humor to lighten” conditions for the reason that begin of the coronavirus pandemic. She talked about one instance to WCSH in Portland, Maine, wherein she thanked all service members for his or her service on Memorial Day.
“A rustic now that’s going to hell in a hand basket quicker than my canine stealing a chunk of pizza off the counter … now that I point out pizza, I’m craving it … bear in mind, the extra you weigh, the more durable you might be to kidnap,” she wrote.
However the signal on Juneteenth echoing the racist trope was a special story, city officers mentioned. Steve Golieb, chair of the Millinocket City Council, mentioned in a assertion this week that it was “deeply saddening, disgraceful and unacceptable for any individual, enterprise, or group to try to make mild of Juneteenth and what it represents for thousands and thousands of slaves and their residing descendants.”
“There isn’t any place within the City of Millinocket for such a blatant disregard of human decency,” he mentioned.
Because the signal was posted, on-line critics have left one-star opinions for the enterprise on Google and Yelp, lots of them mentioning the Juneteenth word.
“The picture says all of it,” one reviewer wrote on Google.
Different insurance coverage firms in Millinocket and round Maine have confronted blowback from individuals pondering they’d posted the signal. Regardless that it’s about 150 miles away from Millinocket, the proprietor of Reed Household Insurance coverage Advisors in Damariscotta, Maine, advised WGME his firm has been flooded with offended voice mails and opinions.
“We’re not affiliated nor related to it,” Nate Reed mentioned. “It simply occurs to be the identical final identify.”
An analogous concern has gone on with Millinocket Insurance coverage Company. Proprietor Lori Velocity advised WABI that the telephone numbers of the 2 companies are virtually similar and that it has been inundated with criticism.
“We admire what Juneteenth stands for and we aren’t racist,” Velocity wrote on Fb accompanying an indication of their Juneteenth signal telling clients, “Have a secure and Glad Vacation weekend!”
Golieb advised WCSH that the city is now looking for a manner ahead, stressing that “an unlucky incident like this doesn’t characterize who we’re as a group.” After noting to the outlet that the enterprise has obtained loss of life threats, Higgins reiterated her regret for what’s occurred.
“I actually apologize,” she mentioned. “I am mortified that that is even taking place.”
Samantha Cherry, Lateshia Beachum, Jacob Bogage and Jonathan Edwards contributed to this report.