“Jumping the broom might look like a cute tradition, but the context is much deeper than that,” explains Jordan Maney, a San Antonio wedding planner. If you haven’t heard of it, jumping the broom (literally hopping over a broomstick while holding hands) is a tradition that some African American couples choose to incorporate in their wedding, usually after they’ve kissed as they are on their way back down the aisle. While it is often attributed to African slaves, who “had absolutely no autonomy, even in love,” the tradition precedes American slavery and is rooted in West African customs.
Eighteenth-century European traders reported that the region that is now Ghana was extremely well-kept due to the use of locally made brooms. The symbolism of brooms seemed to permeate its way into wedding ceremonies—for example, waving a broom over a couple in an Asante wedding symbolized the sweeping away of evil spirits that might have ill will toward the happy couple. For couples who jumped the broom, this act was representative of the household and “symbolized the wife's commitment or willingness to clean the courtyard of the new home she had joined,” according to the African American Registry. Because a groom often jumped higher than his bride, this showed his leadership in the household.
This custom appeared in the U.S. because of the transatlantic slave trade; other African ethnic groups adopted this symbol of jumping the broom from the Asante people in the absence of any legal recognition of enslaved people’s marriages. Jumping the broom became the only symbol of African slave couples' unions in America—in fact, at the time marriage was an illegal and extremely dangerous act. Couples would pretend like they were hosting a regular party, and use jumping the broom to signify their union and commitment. During slavery, “the ceremonial jumping of the broom served as an open declaration of settling down in a marriage relationship,” according to Atlanta Black Star.
While the tradition largely disappeared, both in West Africa due to colonization and the adoption of European wedding customs, as well as in the United States after the emancipation of enslaved people, the revival of the custom in African American weddings is credited to Roots, the novel and miniseries from the 1970s. Today the phrase “jumping the broom” is synonymous with “tying the knot” or “getting hitched.”
This tradition is now so pervasive that when some little girls dream about weddings, they dream of jumping the broom. Diane from Ohio says, “When I was a little girl, I would put on my white Barbie dress-up gown, a white pillowcase as a veil, and I’d grab our ugly blue and yellow broom to practice getting married and jumping the broom.” And sure enough, she incorporated this custom in her wedding, explaining, “Every day I'm thankful for the people who fought tirelessly for my husband and I to spend our lives together.” Heavenly from Atlanta also daydreamed about jumping the broom as a little girl: “It's been a family tradition, and I couldn't wait to have my chance.” Her aunt designed a special broom for her wedding and shipped it to her from Memphis: “I thought it was beautiful! It's definitely something that I plan on passing down to my children. Jumping the broom was the best part of the ceremony.”
For some black couples, the tradition of jumping the broom is more than a family custom and is a deeply important acknowledgement of their history, culture, and identity. Moriah from Georgia says, “[When we were] growing up, my mother made sure that we were proud and confident in who we are. We were taught about our history and its importance and to remember those who were here before us and the type of life they endured.” For Moriah, jumping the broom was just one part of a wedding that spoke to her Creole roots. “We jumped the broom because it was an outward expression of OUR history of marriage. We did it because it is a part of who we are.” DJuana of Missouri adds, “Knowing where you come from influences where you're going. So, jumping the broom for us is saying our love is real and everlasting, just like the love of those people who sometimes died because they simply loved.”
C.K. Alexander, the senior editor of Black Bride says, “I see a lot of couples still jumping the broom in our submissions, and it's usually one of my favorite photos because the couple has officially been pronounced, and this is the last step before they exit the ceremony space, and you really get to see the fullness of their joy in that moment.”
And this love is a powerful—even revolutionary—statement. Wedding planner Jordan Maney explains, “To declare joy and love and, really, their humanity in a time that black people were treated as property was revolutionary. It was an act of resistance.” Raquita Henderson, the lead photographer of Pinxit Photo, says, “Every time I see a broom ceremony, I think of the brides and grooms who would not have been able to have their ceremonies in these beautiful churches, whose love stories were never real to society, and how they must dance in the hereafter when they see us love this way.” Jordan says, “When couples jump the broom now, I think it still has a dual purpose; paying homage to where and who we've come from and acknowledging the right to love and the right to choose love in a time where there isn't much of that going around.”
While some couples prefer to distance themselves from the history of slavery and choose not to incorporate the tradition of jumping the broom, their choice to marry and to celebrate black love or interracial love is still a tribute to the past and a revolutionary statement, according to Jordan Maney. Shae Washington writes for Catalyst Wed Co. about the incredible significance of the right to marry for certain groups: “As a black person in this country (and as a queer person in this country) getting married has been long denied, fought for, and then gained as a right by my people. I do not take for granted the history of enslaved black folk jumping brooms and knitting together family with courage and ruthless love in the face of fear and the reality of most likely being sold away from each other.”
For some groups in this country, the right to love hasn’t come free. The tradition of jumping the broom is an important reminder that even when the humanity and lives of black people are oppressed, black love persists.