Yesterday, I had the honor of marrying a beautiful African-American couple in a small, romantic wedding in Central Park. A week or two before the wedding, the bride reached out to let me know that their ceremony would end with a “jumping of the broom.” I was thrilled. Over the many years I’ve been a celebrate, fewer than 10 couples have participated in this custom.
The tradition has been embraced by African-American couples as a nod to their ancestry. According to some, the ritual was brought to public consciousness with the epic mini-series Roots in the 1970s. According to some, black slaves were unable to marry so “jumping the broom” became symbolic for a marriage commitment. Others describe the use of the broom as representative of sweeping away the past to begin anew.
According to Wikipedia, the tradition has been linked to West Africa (Ghana in particular) as brooms were waved above the heads of newlyweds and their parents. Tyler Parry, in a forthcoming book on the ritual, believes that the ritual was more likely connected to the British Isles. “Despite the racial animus that characterized the SU South in the nineteenth century, poor white southerners (many of them descendants of people who used irregular forms of matrimony in Britain) and enslaved people exchanged their cultures between one another at far greater rates than commonly acknowledged. What I know for sure is that it is heartwarming to see modern couples embracing and redefining rituals, while paying tribute to ancestors who’ve come before them.