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In one of our latest posts, we talked about some of the best wedding movies of all time. One of the titles is called "Jumping the Broom." Our team quickly realized that we weren’t all that familiar with the tradition, so we took it upon ourselves to dive into some research.
The History Behind "Jumping the Broom"
It turns out that there are many theories as to the origins of the tradition of jumping the broom. Keep reading to learn more about this wedding ritual and how it’s been practiced over the years.
What does “jumping the broom” even mean?
Jumping the broom refers to the tradition of a couple literally jumping over a broom in an act of marriage at their wedding ceremony. This ritual was done in place of, or more often now in addition to, the expected “I do”s. While this ritual was often associated with Black weddings, it’s unclear where the tradition exactly started (more on that later!).
The broom used for this type of ceremony is not your typical house broom. Rather, it sits around 3 feet long and has a wooden handle and natural bristles. They are decorated with silk ribbons, flowers, intricate beading, and even lace. Sometimes, guests will write their names on slips of paper to attach to the broom and symbolize their well wishes for the newlyweds. The broom itself is often a fairly heirloom that has been passed down for generations, but sometimes couples will make the brooms themselves or close relations will gift the couple a handmade broom.
There is no traditional choice as to who conducts the ritual/places the broom on the ground, but it is usually done by someone close to the couple (either a dear friend or a relative).
How did the tradition start?
Nobody really knows exactly where the tradition of jumping the broom came from. Many theories suggest that it originated in West Africa where brooms were waved over the couple’s heads to ward off evil before the couple then jumped over the broom.
Others suggest that it isn’t even a Black tradition and originated somewhere in northern Europe among Pre-Christian Roma and Celtic communities. Roma peoples’ marriages were never recognized by the Catholic Church, so the act of jumping the broom became known as a “Besom Wedding.”
If couples jumped over the broom without touching it, they would be considered married. Likewise, they could jump BACKWARDS over the broom to get divorced. If either party failed to jump or if they touched the broom during this ceremony, the marriage (or divorce) would be invalidated or canceled. It is thought that this tradition was carried over from Europe to the American South during the slave trade.
What are the roots of jumping the broom in the United States?
It is unclear whether this marriage ritual was willingly adopted by enslaved people or was forced upon them by their white slaveholders.
Slaveholders may have considered this type of marriage ceremony an ancient pagan custom that, in their eyes, would have been barbaric and unfounded because it did not conform to the standards of the Church. Introducing it to enslaved peoples under their purview was most likely patronizing and demeaning.
As it was, the marriages of enslaved couples were at risk of being dissolved at a moment’s notice, since slave owners could separate couples by selling, lending, or trading slaves on a whim. 30% of marriages were dissolved due to the slave trade and some couples even altered their traditional wedding vows to say “marriage until death or distance” instead of “until death do us part.”
Other historians suggest that the tradition of a broomstick wedding was more willingly taken on by enslaved people and was adopted from lower class white folks in the US and Europe. But readiness to partake in this wedding tradition also depended on where in the household enslaved peoples were stationed.
Field hands, or anyone working away from the main house, were more likely to be comfortable with these wedding ceremonies than enslaved people who were working in the home. Those who were forced into domestic work often wanted to be married by a preacher as they were more exposed to white customs and more aware of the social stigma of jumping the broom that was held by white slave-owners.
It’s hard to say exactly how marriages among enslaved peoples went about, as there are so many prevailing theories as to how the broomstick tradition came to be. There was a study conducted in 2020 that found that 28% of Black marriages made reference to the broomstick tradition, 34% of marriages didn’t have a ceremony of any sort, and 38% mention an entirely different set of ceremonial rites.
Do people still jump the broom?
The idea of jumping the broom gained a lot of popularity after the miniseries Roots came out in 1977. The show follows the real life family history of Alex Haley and focuses on the character Kunta Kinte who is taken from his African village and sold into slavery in the American South. In the third episode, Kunte Kinte and Belle jump over the broom together. The scene is regarded as a moment of joy, love, and hope in such troubling, violent, and hateful times.
Another popular cinematic moment centered around this wedding tradition is the 2011 film "Jumping the Broom" which features the uptown-downtown love affair of Jason Taylor (Laz Alsonso) and affluent Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton). When their parents (or really, their mothers - played by Loretta Devine and Angela Bassett) meet on Martha’s Vineyard, chaos ensues as their class division becomes apparent and they must resolve their issues before they jump the broom.
Some have said that they are against jumping the broom because it may have been forced upon their family members, but others say that it’s a way to pay homage to their ancestry and honor them on their wedding day. Whatever a couple decides to do, however, jump the broom or not jump the broom, or maybe have an entirely different ceremony all together - is all personal preference.
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Cover Photo: Matt Ellis Story Photos (in order): 1. Amanda Crommett, 2. Irabat Photography, 3. Imagine It Photography, Suit designed by couple Self Made Couture, 4. The Emerics, 5. Zoe Burchard, Officiant (and broom-maker) Another One Ties The Knot, 6. Max Wanger 7. June Lion