2 insurance companies end relationship with Maine agency after June 19 racist sign

Updated June 22, 2022 5:56 PM ET

Residents of the town of Millinocket, Maine, say they are outraged and disappointed after a local insurance agency posted a racist sign remarking on the June 16 holiday. Progressive and Allstate are ending their relationship with the agency, according to insurance company representatives.

“June ~ crap… We’re closed. Enjoy your fried chicken and collard greens,” the sign read in large print. It was taped to the front of Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency at Millinocket on Monday. The small town is about three hours from Portland and about 80 kilometers from the Canada-US border.

An image of the racist sign was shared online on Monday, catching the attention of thousands of people on social media.

The insurance agency has come under heavy criticism online, with people leaving one-star reviews on Google and Yelpsome of which have since been deleted.

A review written on Yelp said: “@Progressive – is this really a company you want to represent? 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 is ending its relationship with the agency.

“At Progressive, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is fundamental to our Core Values. We are committed to creating an environment in which our employees feel welcomed, valued and respected and expect anyone representing Progressive to ‘she takes part in this commitment. Sibel wrote. “The sign is in direct violation of this commitment and does not align with our company’s core values ​​and code of conduct.”

Insurance agency Harry E. Reed did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.

Millinocket resident Alura Stillwagon originally posted the image to Facebook with a caption saying, “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 she saw an image of it.

“I must have read it more than once because I thought it was something [my mom] seen on Facebook. But when she said it was business [in town], I was immediately disgusted,” Stillwagon told NPR. “People have this idea that Maine isn’t very racist and it’s kind of liberal. But in the north, it’s not like that at all.”

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

“I hope people wake up and realize this is not OK. People need to know their story. They need to realize that there has been a lot of suffering and that this vacation is justified – and needed,” Groelly said. in an interview with NPR.

Millinocket City Council Chairman Steve Golieb released a statement Tuesday regarding the incident:

“It is deeply saddening, shameful and unacceptable for any person, company or organization to attempt to shed light on Juneteenth and what it means to millions of slaves and their living descendants,” Golieb said in his statement. “There is no place in the town of Millinocket for such blatant disregard for 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 June 19 as a public holiday for the first time on Monday. Governor Janet Mills signed a invoice into law last year declaring the annual commemoration a paid holiday. This month, Mills signed a proclamation declaring June 19 as Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is an annual commemoration celebrated on June 19 which marks the second Independence Day of the United States.

On this day in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger – who had fought for the Union – arrived in Galveston, Texas, with nearly 2,000 soldiers to announce that the more than 250,000 enslaved blacks in the state were finally free.

President Biden signed a invoice in 2021 recognize June 16 as a federal holiday.

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Kristan F. Talley