The History of “Jumping the Broom”

Special Customs and Traditions

Brooms have been associated with weddings in various cultures of the world from time immemorial:  peoples of the southern regions of the continent of Africa; the Romanichal Gypsies of Great Britain; ethnic groups in Hungary; and Africans displaced to the southern regions of North America during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, for example. The significance of the broom in the wedding ceremony varies from culture to culture. In the southern regions of the African continent, the broom is symbolic of the bride’s willingness or commitment to sweep clean the courtyard of her new home, a cultural metaphor for her becoming a part of her new family. “Jumping the broom” is a tradition with roots in Black America and is believed to be at least as old as pre-Emancipation 19th century, where the enslaved were prohibited from legal marriage since enslaved persons could not enter legally binding contracts and because the rights of marriage oftentimes conflicted with the rights of slave ownership. So just as African-Brazilians would mask martial arts in the dance form capoeira, or Afro-Cubans would merge their African religions with Catholicism, Afro-Americans “jumped the broom” to publicly declare their commitments to each other—in a manner that would go unnoticed by the authorities. With the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, “jumping the broom” fell into rapid decline. But in the 1970s, with the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots and the television miniseries that it spawned, the tradition saw a resurgence in the African-American community. Generally, the “jumping the broom” ritual takes place immediately after the the ceremony, typically on the front steps of the church. But in Afro-centric ceremonies, the jumping of the broom is oftentimes incorporated in the ceremony itself. The couple hold hands and jump the broom together, symbolizing a “crossing over” from single life into married life.

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