MILLINOCKET, Maine — A post on social media has now been shared more than 10,000 times and counting, calling out a business in Millinocket for a sign it posted ahead of the Juneteenth holiday.
The post shows pictures of Harry E. Reed Insurance Inc. on Penobscot Avenue in Millinocket with a sign on the door that reads, "Juneteenth, it's whatever ... we're closed. Enjoy your fried chicken and collard greens."
The post sparked outrage throughout the community and beyond, even gaining national attention. Harry E. Reed Insurance Inc. said it had to take its phones off the hook due to death threats, but it's not the only agency feeling the ripple effects. The sign caused similarly-named agencies in Maine and across the country to experience unwarranted backlash from people confusing them with the Millinocket agency.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Damariscotta-based Reed Family Insurance Advisors said it had to shut its office down for the day "due to the volume of threatening calls and emails we have received."
"We at Reed Family Insurance Advisors do not in any way agree with or condone this type of behavior," the Facebook post said. "This racist comment is appalling and disgusting."
"Juneteenth is a respected federal holiday that stands to remind our nation the African American experience not only included discrimination, segregation and many social injustices but physical chains," the post continued. "Emancipation did come and broke those chains and should be seen as a celebration."
Harry Reed, owner of the California-based Harry Reed Insurance Agency, said similar outrage is being directed at his business.
"My agency is being trashed on Google. I've never had a complaint and now my reputation is being trashed on Google," Reed said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. "Please Google Harry Reed Insurance Agency in Santa Clarita and leave a good review. I need to balance out those reviews."
There have since been several Google reviews over the past 24 hours informing people that the California agency and the Millinocket agency are not the same.
"Harry Reed Insurance Agency is a black-owned business that is being inaccurately targeted due to the actions of another insurance agency with the same name," wrote a reviewer with the username Tommy Hayes. "Please take up your frustrations with Harry E Reed in Millinocket ME."
Reed, who is Black, told NEWS CENTER Maine on Thursday that although he did receive some violent voicemails, the majority were peaceful. He commended Mainers' initiative to have their voices heard, saying, "They were hostile and upset for the right reasons, just the wrong person."
"I would rather use this as a way to appreciate those who stood up against hate, who stood up against racism," he said. "That's my takeaway. So I appreciate, even though it was directed at me improperly, I appreciate the people who took the time to take the action."
"There was one call that said, 'Now look, we've come too far in our race relations to let it get derailed by some insurance agent. We've all got to pull on the same rope together,'" Reed recalled. "I liked that call."
Reed said he'd like to have a conversation with the woman who posted the sign.
"Perhaps a conversation that she's not accustomed to having might help," he said.
Progressive and Allstate, two of the nation's largest insurance carriers, told NEWS CENTER Maine on Wednesday that they are terminating their relationships with Harry E. Reed Insurance Co.
Melanie Higgins, an insurance agent at the company, is the one who posted the sign.
"I would never purposely set out to hurt anyone and I would never purposely set out to hurt my mom's business at all. She had nothing to do with this," Higgins said.
Higgins' mother, Karen, has owned the business since she purchased it more than 30 years ago. Now, just the two of them work there and run the business together.