An independent insurance agency in Millinocket, Maine has lost three of its carrier partners and continues to face backlash on social media and in its community after posting a racially-charged sign on its door on Monday, the Juneteenth holiday.
“Juneteenth ~it’s whatever… We’re closed. Enjoy your fried chicken & collard greens,” stated the sign that was taped to the front door of Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency in Millinocket on Monday.
Juneteenth celebrates the freeing of Black slaves in the U.S. On June 19 in 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform more than 250,000 enslaved Blacks in the state that they were finally free. The day is a federal holiday and, as of this year, also a state holiday in Maine.
According to the Bangor Daily News and numerous other media outlets, three insurers— Progressive, Allstate and MMG Insurance— have cancelled their contracts with the agency since being informed of the sign. National Public Radio also reported on insurer cancellations. The insurers said the sign is inconsistent with their values and codes of conduct.
MMG Insurance confirmed with Insurance Journal that it terminated the agency’s contract.
Melanie Higgins, the agency employee who posted the sign, issued an apology on Facebook. She said she was sorry for any pain her sign caused and for the negative attention it has brought to her community and the agency. She said she is herself multiracial and is not a racist. She said she has frequently posted signs where she tries to make people smile by using humor, often about herself and about food. She stressed that the owner of the agency had nothing to do with the sign and she hoped people would not chastise the owner because of what she did.
Also several other agencies in the state and as far away as California that have “Reed” in their names said they are also facing backlash as the public is confusing them with the Millinocket agency.
The carriers issued statements on the incident and why they cancelled their contracts with the Maine agency.
“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,” the statement from Progressive said. “The sign is in direct violation of that commitment and doesn’t align with our company’s Core Values and Code of Conduct.”
Allstate posted on Twitter: “We terminated 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.”
Larry M. Shaw, president and CEO of regional carrier MMG Insurance, posted a message on the company’s website. “At MMG Insurance, we believe in equity. We fully support that all people must be treated equally regardless of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. These values, in part, guide how we treat our workforce, interact with our Agents, and deliver on our promise to protect our Policyholders. The tragic events that transpired recently have caused a need for us to speak up and reaffirm our conviction,” Shaw wrote in part.
The chairman of the town council in Millinocket also criticized the sign in a statement on Facebook. “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. There is no place in the town of Millinocket for such a blatant disregard of human decency,” Steve Golieb said in the statement.
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