Jumping the broom has become synonymous with African American wedding traditions. Popularized by the Emmy award-winning miniseries Roots, the tender scene of Kunta Kinte and Belle cementing their wedding vows by jumping the broom left a lasting impression on many Black Americans. It was a symbol of perseverance in the midst of so much darkness for enslaved Black Americans throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
“The broomstick wedding, for many viewers, conveyed how African descendants shared the profound joy of romantic love in the midst of incessant violation and trauma,” said Dianne M. Stewart, author of Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage. “In the years since Roots premiered, I’ve been invited to a number of weddings in which Black couples jumped the broom, considering it a dignifying African tradition preserved by ancestors.”
The popularity of the custom in Black communities is depicted in contemporary films and television such as the 2011 rom-com, Jumping the Broom. Because the wedding tradition is so firmly wrapped in Black American culture, other ethnic groups are often implicitly discouraged from practicing it. A viral tweet of a photographer’s photos showing a white bride and a Black groom jumping the broom at their wedding sparked outrage online. The images sparked disapproval from Twitter, with many users virtually shaking their heads at a white woman taking part in what’s thought of as a traditionally Black custom.
There’s no denying that jumping the broom has significant symbolism for Black people, but according to various scholars, the tradition was not exclusive to Black Americans. In fact, there are reports that the tradition originated from European tribes before America was even a country.
In order to get a fuller picture of the practice in the Black community and beyond, let’s take a brief look at the origins of jumping the broom.