Monday, August 29, 2011

Is Jumping The Broom A Black Appropriation Of A White Custom?

Written by Azizi Powell [revised June 2, 2013]

The tradition of jumping the broom was known to African Americans before the bestselling novel & 1977 television mega hit Roots. But post-Roots and I believe largely because of its inclusion in that television mini-series, more African Americans have incorporated the custom of jumping the broom into their wedding reception, or their wedding ceremony than ever before. And many African Americans think that "jumping the broom" was either created by Black folks during United States slavery or was an traditional African custom. Some people who hold that belief, only Black folks then and now jumped the broom. Judging from online comments on various blogs & YouTube videos of jumping the broom, this view also appears to be held by a number of non-African Americans.

Between 2008 and 2011 there were three African American films that focused on the custom of “jumping the broom”. Those films anD their move trailers are:
Noah's Arc: Jumping The Broom (2008)

Jump The Broom: A Musical (2009)

Jumping The Broom (2011)

The latter film is by far the most popular and the most widely known of these three movies.

In a scene from the Noah’s Arc movie, one of the men getting married gives this explanation of the custom of jumping the broom:
“What’s the deal with this whole broom thing?”

“When our ancestors were slaves, they weren’t allowed to marry legally. So they created this ritual to symbolize marriage. It’s a way for us to honor our history.”

I admit that I was among those who believed that the custom of jumping the broom was either created by enslaved African Americans or was a tradition wedding custom in West Africa or Central Africa where most African Americans came from.

When it is part of the wedding ceremony, the newly married couple jumps the broom after the minister pronounces them husband & wife, and after they kiss. When it is part of the wedding reception, jumping the broom usually occurs before the newlyweds take their first dance.

In the few weddings that I've attended where African Americans jumped the broom, it was done as part of their wedding reception, prior to the newly married couple's first dance. However, most YouTube videos of this custom show African Americans incorporating jumping the broom as part of the actual wedding ceremony.

Although some African Americans "jump the broom" at the conclusion of their wedding ceremony or at their wedding reception, not all African Americans include this custom in their wedding. One reason that some African Americans may not "jump the broom" is because that custom is associated with slavery and/or "jumping the broom" is considered "lower class". It's interesting to note that two of the three above Black movies about jumping the broom Noah's Arc and Jumping The Broom, the wedding was held in the upscale community of Martha's Vineyard and both these movies touched on the issue that some Black people had with jumping the broom being a lower class remmant of slavery.

There's no question that sometimes during United States slavery Black couples jumped the broom to symbolize that they were married. But I don't think that custom came from Africa.

According to the folkloric research cited as references in Jumping The Broom,there are no recorded instances of West African or Central African weddings that involved jumping over a broom. In contrast, that same Wikipedia page notes that there’s considerable folkloric documentation that the custom of jumping the broom has been practiced for centuries in Wales and in England.

A traditional belief of the Congolese people of Central Africa is that there is a line (called the Kalunga line) which separates the world of humans and the world of ancestors, spirits, God and gods. It’s possible that some enslaved Black people might have remembered this belief. It’s also possible that those same enslaved people could have grafted that belief onto the act of newlywed couples jumping over a broom stick lying on the ground-that movement symbolizing moving from being single to being married. But I think that it’s probably more likely that White people introduced the custom of jumping the broom among enslaved Black people as a substitution for more formal marriage rituals whose use was denied to Black people.

In a nation such as the United States where the folkloric traditions of various racial and ethnic groups are often appropriated, merged, and significantly modified, the fact that African Americans may have claimed a Western European custom as our own shouldn’t be all that surprising. Borrowing customs across racial and ethnic lines is a universal practice. The fact that the custom of jumping the broom might have originated in Europe, and may have been either voluntarily borrowed from White folks by enslaved African Americans or forced upon us by White slave masters need not minimize the symbolic meanings of that custom that has been given to it by African Americans in the past and in the present.

Here are four videos of the jumping the broom. Each of these videos are examples of how "jumping the broom" has been integrated into some wedding receptions or wedding ceremonies. These videos aren't meant to serve as a template of what should happen during ceremonies or receptions.

These videos are given in no particular order. The first three videos are of an African American weddings, and the fourth video is an non-African American wedding service.

Video #1: Kiss the Bride and Jump the Broom

Uploaded by brownsoc on Aug 28, 2009

Jason and Jorvanna on their wedding day. He's about to salute the bride but first things first

Video #2: Wedding Reception and Jump the Broom, Union Plaza Las Vegas, Nv.

Uploaded by oscarandbernie on Nov 21, 2009

Academy Award Video Productions shot this unique celebration at the Union Plaza in 1995. This was a musical and visual presentation of the old custom of 'jumping over the broom' a new life begining together. The performance includes the Bride and Groom and is emotional as is beautiful to see. See more of Oscar's video work at Oscar and Bernie Dotcom on TV/Web Productions Page.

Video #3: Darran & Venus Jumping The Broom

Stacey1Venus, Uploaded on Jul 4, 2011

An African-American traditional wedding ceremony in which the bride and groom signify their entrance into a new life and their creation of a new family by symbolically "sweeping away" their former single lives, former problems and concerns, and over the broom to enter upon a new adventure as husband and wife...

Stacey1Venus: Darran Stacey Johnson & Venus Bivins

Video #4: Nicky and Tim jump the broom

Uploaded by SaintMitch on Oct 1, 2006

Nicky and Tim got married in Cenac, France on 16th September 2006. The ceremony culminated in them jumping over a broom to symbolise their leap into domestic bliss together!

ADDED VIDEO [6/2/2013]

Ben L'Oncle Soul - Elle me dit (clip officiel)

Universal Music France, Uploaded on Jul 18, 2011
Hat tip to Afro-Europe for alerting me to this video.

Click for a pancocojams post of "Elle Me Dit" which includes an English translation to this song & information about Ben L"Oncle Soul.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Here's part of the comment I added to the viewer comment thread for the Nicky and Tim wedding video in response to a person writing "Do these people understand the origin behind jumping the broom?!"

    Actually, the custom of broom stick weddings, particularly in Wales predates the custom of enslaved African Americans jumping the broom. That custom was found among the Welsh, particularly among Gypsies before the 1700s. And it's not an African tradition. African Americans have made it our tradition, but it didn't originate with us...

    An African American sista


    The rest of my comment urged people to google this pancocojams post to find that video, other videos, and more information.

  2. Here's another comment from that same Nicky & Tim video that is found at and is embedded above:

    "The broom itself doesn't mean anything. The jumping act itself symbolizes jumping from one life to another new life as a married person. It's an african american tradition. Slaves weren't allowed to marry officially, so they made up their own tradition of jumping the broom. All of the slaves recognized the union among themselves. To this day in the south, when people get married, the old timers still say 'such and such jumped the broom!".
    -PrincessChronicles; 2010

  3. I'm an anthropologist and I teach African and African American studies in the southern USA (North Carolina) and I do research in Ghana, West Africa. "Jumping the broom" is absolutely an African-American tradition. Why? Because it was a cultural practice, adopted by enslaved Africans, passed down from generation to generation and widely documented in the antebellum south.

    Was the practice carried over from western (West or Central) Africa? Probably not. I don't know any evidence for it. But I have read accounts of brooms in Indonesia, various parts of Africa, and Europe as ritual objects symbolically used to sweep away bad spirits. It is possible that the African-derived symbolic meaning of brooms was transformed on slave plantations to infuse new meaning to the Euro-derived custom of broom-jumping.

    Is Candomblé or Santería any less African because these Yoruba/Ifá derived religions incorporate Catholic Saints? African Independent Churches are appropriations from Europeans. Does that make them less African? Some African purists say yes, but many devotees say no. From the perspective of the devotees (or at least many devotees), their religions are African because they are uniquely adapted to their context. I agree. In my view, jumping the broom is African because it was adopted by African people. One of many examples of creativity under horrific conditions. I, for one, believe that the practice is no less beautiful and African than anything done in Africa. kzs

    1. Ghetto Intellectual, I appreciate your comment as I was hoping for discussion of this topic.

      As I wrote in my first comment to this post, African Americans have made jumping the broom our tradition, but it didn't originate with us.

      As for jumping the broom being African because it was adopted by African people, according to that way of thinking, any custom that originated among population "A" but is picked up by population "B" can be considered population "B"'s custom. And while that is true in a manner of speaking, what I meant in my post & in my comment is that that custom didn't originate with population "B". To use the example that is the focus of this post, jumping the broom, didn't originate with African Americans, but we have adopted that custom, perhaps also giving it additional meanings, and otherwise making it our own [custom].

      I agree with your statement that jumping the broom "is one of many examples of [African American] creativity under horrific conditions." And in a general sense, I also agree that jumping the broom is as "African [as] anything done in Africa", but my point was that I don't believe that custom is [or was] traditional to West Africa or Central Africa or any other region of Africa - although it's possible that placing a broom horizontally on the floor could have been an adaptation of the traditional belief in the Kalunga line, "a watery boundary between the world of the living and the dead in religious traditions of the Congo region."

      Also, I think that Caribbean/American religions such as Lucumi and Candomble that combine various African belief systems & Catholicism are examples of syncretism, "the merger and analogizing of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion".

      Thanks again for your comment!

  4. Hi I'm of English, Irish and Welsh stock. I jumped the broom at my civil wedding ceremony. My mother asked us to, as we were unable to have a family or religious wedding at the time. The knowledge of jumping the broom comes from oral tradition via my mother (the welsh side). It is now rare in the UK but is becoming more popular, especially among wiccans along with handfasting. My husbands friends and family, who were not british, kept asking questions about the tradition. When I went online and searched it, out of curiosity, I discovered that another form of jumping the broom was present in African-American culture. The meanings are, obviously, different. In truth cultures are always in a state of flux so it is never clear where the origins of anything comes from as from what I've read this is a Romani tradition more than a Welsh one. I think that brooms, or besoms, are powerful objects in many cultures, because they are so commonly used and associated with the house (and thus women). So we cannot discount the possibility that two such traditions emerged from different origin/cultures through similar associations and perhaps necessity.

    1. Also just to add I found your page very illuminating especially when it came to learning and understanding jumping the broom in African American culture. Thank you.

    2. L. Lang,

      Thank you for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience "jumping the broom".

      My experience is that only a small percentagee of African Americans actually incorporate jumping the broom in our wedding receptions and an even smaller percentage incorporate jumping the broom in the actual wedding ceremony.

      If I understand the difference between the Welsh custom and the contemporary African American custom, the Welsh did this because no clegy were available, but AA's do it [now] in tribute to the past custom during U.S. slavery but also to symbolically represent moving forward as a couple.

      Btw, I fixed those videos that weren't showing since YouTube changed their code. Thanks for that too as I wasn't aware that those videos weren't showing until I read your comments.

    3. Hi
      yes as we weren't being married by a priest she asked us to jump the broom. I grew up knowing about traditions like this from stories she told us, but if we'd been married in the church I'm not sure she would have brought it up.

    4. Thanks to your mom, folks reading this post and your comments now know that jumping the broom isn't only done by African Americans.

      Best wishes to you!

  5. This was an enlightening article and set of comments. As I look further into this particular custom, it appears that Broom Jumping was more often a matter of coercion than a vestige of custom from the motherland that slaves were allowed to preserve. What L. Lang shared about jumping the broom being a substitute for a "proper" ceremony in Great Britain, aligns with the paternalistic attitudes of the Planters/Masters who allowed, and sometimes sponsored, slave weddings. For the majority of owners who allowed or actively sponsored slave marriages it more a matter of expediency to placate the slaves. It could reduce the propensity for attempted escape, provide for some semblance of stability, (but only on the masters' terms), and also to promote propagation, which only enriched the owner. These marriages were not seen as something legal, binding, or even to be respected, so Planters/Masters substituting or including the broom jump to recognize a less than full fledged marriage makes sense In addition, in reading the Slave Narratives produced in the 1930's from the accounts of ex-slaves, the vast majority of the mentions of jumping the broom described situations arranged by the slave masters, and not the slaves. While it's certainly up to each individual to determine how they will celebrate their union and honor their past, Jumping the Broom in my opinion is less of a celebration of the slave's quiet resistance to bondage, and more of a reminder of how they were treated as inferior to their owners.

    1. Alexis Carlton Jones,

      I appreciate your comment based on your research.
      I see no documentation that jumping the broom was an African custom and it wouldn't surprise me at all if the custom of Black Americans "jumping the broom" began as "less of a celebration of the slave's quiet resistance to bondage, and more of a reminder of how they were treated as inferior to their owners".

  6. Jumping the broom is a Black American tradition and did not come from Africa or any other cultures. There is history behind it.

    1. Anonymous, thanks for your comment.

      I stand by what I wrote in this post- that the African American tradition of jumping the broom didn't come from Africa and didn't originate with Black Americans, but was (and probably still is) a European custom.