Wedding ceremonies often incorporate traditions reflecting the bride and groom’s lineage or culture. In Black American culture, some newlyweds participate in the long-time tradition of “jumping the broom” to seal their marriage and pay homage to their ancestors. This marriage tradition within the African American community began during slavery, specifically around 1840 to 1850.
Though, there are many differing accounts of where the tradition originated. The most common sentiment is the tradition of jumping the broom began in West Africa. In hindsight, West Africa seems to be the most likely origin, as people taken into enslavement in America mostly came from that African region. Moreover, in older West African culture, brooms signified a tool to sweep away evil spirits and negative energy. So, newlyweds who jump the broom are “sweeping away” their old life, as well as any negative energy attached to their past, and entering into a new one.
Here’s how jumping the broom works: a couple jumps over the broom directly after their wedding vows. They jump over the broom together, typically hand-in-hand, and walking back down the aisle illustrates the couple’s transition into their new life. The broom used during the ceremony may be a family heirloom or a broom bought by or gifted to the couple. Notably, the broom is not a traditional sweeping broom. Rather, it’s a shorter broom seen and used more for symbolic purposes. After the broom is used, many couples keep the broom as a keepsake for remembrance and to pass down to future generations.
Regarding how and why the tradition was used during slavery, enslaved people weren’t allowed to legally marry, as they were seen as property and not people. As a result, the tradition of jumping the broom was used to indicate a couple in enslavement were officially married.
This centuries old tradition is still practiced in some African American communities. There are even many pop-culture references to jumping the broom. For example, there is a Black film titled, “Jumping the Broom” made in 2011. It’s mentioned in OutKast’s song “Call the Law” released in 2006. Additionally, the tradition is shown in the movie series “Roots,” which came out in 1971.
In fact, the popularity of “Roots” gave the old tradition a resurgence within the African American community. After slavery ended, and Black people were allowed to legally marry, the tradition fell off. However, after “Roots” displayed the harsh realities of what Black people endured during slavery, African Americans felt jumping the broom during their wedding ceremonies tied them to their ancestors.
For the Black people that still participate in this tradition, jumping the broom signifies an ode to our ancestors who did what they had to to illustrate their love for their partners as well as maintain their humanity. In addition, African Americans who jump the broom feel as though they are reclaiming the history of our ancestors. Though the historical origins behind the tradition are rather ambiguous, the horrors of slavery are well known, especially amongst the Black community. We may not know the half of it, but we do know our ancestors went through hell to give us the freedoms we now possess. Jumping the broom is a nod to their hardship as well as their spirit and endurance. African Americans also jump the broom as an acknowledgement to the only connection we have to our mostly lost West-African culture.
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