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June 22, 2022

Racist office sign in Millinocket provokes sharp rebuke on social media

A racist sign at the office of a Millinocket insurance agency has been blowing up on social media since Monday, and has drawn sharp criticism from the leader of the town council.

The notice taped inside the window of the Harry E. Reed Insurance Agency said the office, on Penobscot Avenue, was closed for Juneteenth, the holiday that marks the emancipation of enslaved Black people in the U.S.

"Juneteenth – it's whatever ... We're closed. Enjoy your fried chicken & collard greens," the sign read in a large font.

Photographs of the sign quickly appeared on Facebook and other platforms, and received hundreds of posts in response.

“The racism in Millinocket is real,” a Facebook user identified as Alura Stillwagon posted.

Another commenter, Adam Wallace, wrote, “Hey @Allstate isn't the Harry E Reed Insurance agency in Millinocket, Maine an Allstate broker? Y'all support this?”

The photographs appeared to be genuine. Attempts to reach the insurance agency for comment were not immediately successful.

On Tuesday, Millinocket Town Council Chair Steve Golieb also took to social media, posting a statement from the town.

"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 wrote. "There is no place in the Town of Millinocket for such a blatant disregard of human decency."

Golieb’s post had received online reactions from nearly 300 Facebook users by Wednesday morning.

“I dare say the agency will see a lot of people changing insurance agents,” wrote one user, identified as Susan J. Decourcy. “I am a native of Millinocket and I believe that we were brought up to honor and respect all peoples of every nationality and region.”

Juneteenth officially occurs June 19. The date is the anniversary of when, soon after the end of the Civil War in 1865, U.S. Army General Gordon Granger announced to enslaved people in Texas that they were free and no longer could be held in bondage.

Juneteenth grew into a broad celebration of liberty, racial equality and Black culture, and became a federal holiday in 2021. Gov. Janet Mills also made it a state holiday last year, and earlier this month issued a proclamation of June 19 as Juneteenth.

The day — or, as in this year, the following Monday — is also recognized by businesses.

In a poll this week by Mainebiz, roughly 30% of over 200 respondents said their businesses closed Monday or recognized the holiday by some other means.

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