Tie the knot. Get hitched. Take the Plunge. Those are mainstream phrases associated with getting married. Now where I’m from, we say “jump the broom.” And it’s literal. We actually jump over a broom! A ritual passed down through slavery. A tradition that is symbolic of us paying respect to ancestors that came before us. A ceremony black families hold dear to our hearts. A custom that many other racial groups know absolutely nothing about.
When I got married, I told a few of my white friends “I jumped the broom” and the collective response was confusion. “But what does that mean?” It dawned on me how much, or rather how little, mainstream America knows about the sacred broom ceremony that continues to sweep it’s way down our generations.
Where did it begin? Europe or Africa?
There are many debates as to where this tradition began. Everyone wants to claim it (at least, until we get to the rough part below). Some say England, others say Africa. I’m going to go with Africa for $200, Alex.
According to the African American Registry, research points to an origination in west Africa’s Ghanaian region during the 18th century. Brooms were commonly used to keep roads clean, walkways immaculate, and homes in pristine order. For the wealthy, servants used brooms to make palaces and courtyards presentable to guests and visitors. Because of it’s deep cultural significance, Ghanaians incorporated the broom into weddings to signify sweeping away the past, removing negativity, and dismantling evil spirits at the onset of a marital union.
“Jumping the broom” represents:
- The wife’s commitment to keeping the house clean
- The husband’s confirmation as the household decision-maker (the highest jumper takes on this role)
Blacks couldn’t marry during slavery
Regardless of where the tradition technically began, it clearly survived “the middle passage,” and continued through generations of slavery here in the U.S. Although, back in Ghana, the tradition ended around 1897. In the U.S., slaves perpetuated this custom and incorporated it into their wedding ceremonies. You see, slave marriages were not legally sanctioned and recognized by the state because slaves were not seen as citizens. Therefore, they used their standing broom ceremonies to represent the official confirmation of marriage.
The Constitution’s 13th, 14th and 15th amendments between the years of 1865-1870 allowed blacks to legally marry. As a result, broom ceremonies were widely discontinued because blacks no longer needed the ritual to replace the legal union. In addition, the custom began to carry a stiff stigma as it regurgitated sickening memories of bondage and oppression. Representing a deep and poignant reminder of decades past, many blacks rejected the tradition in a similar way that many black women discontinued breastfeeding. The broom ceremony was swept aside and became a distant ancestral memory. Interestingly enough, the tradition gained newfound popularity and made a comeback in 1976, after it was featured in Alex Haley’s “Roots.”
“Jumping the broom” today: A glance back, a look ahead.
Why do we continue this old tradition rooted in slavery? Because it’s heavy. It’s a mixture of pain, reverence, and joy. In fact, it means so much that many couples, young and old, still widely practice the tradition today. The broom ceremony gives a nod to those that suffered through slavery and pays homage to our ancestors that came before us. Instead of stigmatizing a tradition known to relive the horrors of human captivity, many of us still willingly embrace it and hold it dear to our hearts. For me, jumping the broom connected my past and my future. It made me proud.
Can anyone “jump the broom?” Now that you know the rich and painful history, it’s easy to make the connection to controversy. Some people express dismay when other racial groups “jump the broom” without reverence to it’s historical roots. In other words, many people participate in traditions they don’t understand. The act often draws criticism from those that hold it near and dear to an African tradition drenched in oppression. Is it a justified form of cultural appropriation? You decide.
The beautiful broom
Many brides choose to decorate their own brooms. Sometimes it matches the wedding colors or bridal gown. Others are made with love and care to represent something meaningful to the bride.
Pinterest features an array of extravagant brooms that can be made at home or custom ordered from expert designers. Some of these can they can get really fancy! Sometimes, brides attach ribbons with the names of each guest, so as to include each attendee in the broom ceremony.
“Jump the Broom!” (order of events may differ):
- Bride and groom complete their vows
- Minister announces the couple as man and wife
- Bride and groom kiss
- Minister summons the broom
- Witness lays the broom before for the couple
- Minister gives a script, provides a song, and/or offers an explanation of the broom ceremony.
- Bride and groom hold hands to leap together while the guests cheer!
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. I love the fact that this old tradition just keeps on living.
If you “jumped the broom” or would like to share the history, please share this blog! Each one teach one.
This article was first published on Sassy Plum