Maine insurance agency facing avalanche of criticism for racist Juneteenth sign

An insurance agency in Maine has faced an avalanche of criticism after it put up a sign on June 16 telling New Federal Holiday celebrants, “Enjoy your fried chicken and kale.”

A Facebook post with a picture of the sign – posted on the door of the Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency in the town of Millinocket, Maine – has been shared more than 11,000 times since Monday.

The full sign reads: “June it’s whatever… we’re closed. Enjoy your fried chicken and collards.”

The sign drew criticism from Maine residents and online users, who noted that it mocked June 16, which commemorates the day in 1865, two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned of were free. It became an official federal holiday last year.

Millinockett City Council Chairman Steve Golieb condemned the sign on Tuesday, writing in a statement posted to Facebook that it is “deeply saddened, shameful and unacceptable for any person, business or organization to attempt to protect March 16.” June and what to illuminate it stands for millions of slaves and their living descendants.”

“There is no place in the town of Millinocket for such blatant disregard for human decency,” Golieb wrote. “The city does not accept or advocate anything other than inclusivity, and we invite everyone to explore the wonderful things our community has to offer.”

The Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency apologized for the sign through its employee Melanie Higgins, who said in a statement that she usually puts “snappy” signs on the front door of the office on holidays or other big events.

She said the store’s owner, Karen Hansen, had nothing to do with her sign. Hansen is Higgins’ mother and the two are the only employees in the small business that Hansen started more than 30 years ago.

Higgins acknowledged that the sign was “frivolous” and perceived as racist “due to the terminology I used in relation to foods associated with ethnicities”.

Associating fried chicken with black Americans is a common racist expression.

“The only explanation I can offer is that I had a death in my family and just wanted to go home and quickly wrote the note. I can truly assure you all that I would never be called a racist in any facet of the word. I would also never intentionally incite such acts,” she wrote in her statement. “I’m so sorry for the pain I caused and the negative attention it brought.”

Still, the apology came too late for two of the country’s largest insurance companies. Both Progressive and Allstate told the Maine News Center that they were cutting ties with the local insurance agency.

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