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Broom Used in Wedding CeremonyCeremonies hold a special place in our hearts. Candles atop a cake help us to conceptualize time as the years fly by. The act of baptism allows us to reckon with our mortality by mimicking death and resurrection. Even the secular tradition of graduation represents one's passage into adulthood. One may argue that so much of our experience is founded upon abstract ideas that we agree upon. Ceremonies and traditions are a means to manifest our ideas and beliefs into our physical world. 

Among our most cherished and beloved traditions is marriage. Across the world, marriage ceremonies are used to celebrate the union of lovers and families before a higher power. While the imagery of traditional Western weddings brings to mind elegant gowns and sprawling cathedrals, history is full of wedding traditions that are known for their modesty. 

Jumping the Broom

While it is primarily used in the Southern United States, you've likely heard someone use "jump the broom" as a colloquialism for marriage. The exact entomology of this term is subject to debate because of its association with a number of different historical customs. However, this expression is most commonly associated with African Americans and slavery in the American South. 

To put it simply, the act of jumping the broom was a humble means of legitimizing a union between lovers in slave communities. As is the case with many traditions, it carries immense cultural pride for many African Americans to this day. In fact, the physical act of jumping the broom has seen a resurgence over the years and is sometimes incorporated into contemporary marriage ceremonies for Black Americans.

Ceremonies of this sort are a beautiful thing, especially when one considers that traditions like these often arise out of necessity. Such is the case with jumping the broom. It was birthed as a tradition that African Americans used to assert their humanity in the face of unbearable bondage and brutality. 

Marriage Equality and the Institution of Slavery

The institution of chattel slavery stripped its victims of all human rights. While history can sometimes omit this narrative, slavery also denied enslaved peoples the right to wed. First, slaves had no legal rights as citizens in the eyes of the law. Black Americans would not have their marriages recognized by law until the passage of the 14th Amendment following the Civil War. Even worse, the practice of slavery allowed slaveholders the power to interfere with the romantic and intimate lives of the enslaved. 

As such, slave communities had to develop their own means of recognizing unions. Often done in secret, the act of jumping the broom served to distinguish a committed union from a casual one. The tradition called for witnesses to be present in order for the union to be legitimized in the eyes of the community. 

An Act of Love and Rebellion

A wedding ceremony is an exciting and joyous time. While jumping the broom emerged as a practical means to deal with dark times, it still carried the spiritual and emotional power of a contemporary wedding. It allowed lovers to celebrate their relationship and gave the broader community something to rally around. Still, there is a deeper truth that this tradition reveals.

Under slavery, African Americans found their humanity under attack at all times. During this dark period of American history, there was very little recourse for the enslaved to live authentically and pursue self-determination. While the act itself is modest and humble, jumping the broom had resounding implications. It was more than a means to transition from courtship to lifelong union. It was a simple way for the couple, and the community at large, to say, "We are human." 

Category: Ceremonies


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