Why Black Couples Jump the Broom

The tradition of jumping the broom at weddings has a long history that encompasses different cultures and continents.

But it has “always been a practice, from its inception, used by people who are ostracized and oppressed by the broader nation, state or kingdom,” said Tyler D. Parry, an assistant professor of African American and African diaspora studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Dr. Parry, the author of “Jumping the Broom: The Surprising Multicultural Origins of a Black Wedding Ritual,” traced the tradition back to at least the 18th century, when it was largely practiced by marginalized populations in Europe, he said, “such as traveling communities like the British Romani, rural Welsh communities, Irish individuals and various other people who lived on the margins of the British Isles.”

As Europeans who had jumped over brooms at their weddings came to the United States, so too did the ritual. It was soon adopted by another marginalized population: enslaved people in the American South. “While broomsticks were used in some West African ceremonies,” Dr. Parry said the earliest documented examples of people of African descent jumping over a broom in the U.S. are from the 1800s.

Because enslaved Africans generally had no legal right to marry before the Civil War, they saw jumping the broom as a symbolic way to recognize their unions. In time, Dr. Parry said, that population “innovated, reinvented and reimagined jumping the broom in a way that was fulfilling to them.” The practice has since come to signify sweeping away the old and welcoming the new, the joining of two families and showing respect to ancestors.

Here, four Black couples explain how and why they incorporated the tradition into their modern weddings.

Abram Jackson and Julius Crowe Hampton jumped the broom at their wedding on July 24, 2021, at the Oakland Museum of California in Oakland, Calif., where they live. “In many ways, it was the most important element of the ceremony,” Mr. Jackson said.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mr. Jackson, a 41-year-old high school teacher, has relatives who lived in Louisiana and the Carolinas since slavery. “We would be remiss if we did not honor our ancestors who jumped the broom to confirm their love against all odds,” he said.

A native of Tucson, Ariz., Mr. Hampton has roots in Oklahoma and Arkansas. He purchased the cinnamon broom the couple used in their ceremony at Trader Joe’s, then adorned it with fabric in mustard and sage, their wedding colors, and sprigs of dried lavender, eucalyptus and craspedia. (After their wedding, the couple hung it above their bed.)

“Jumping the broom was the most transcendental experience of my life,” said Mr. Hampton, 34, an elementary schoolteacher. “I felt as if I was lifted by the ancestors as we took this grand leap of faith witnessed by our friends, family and community.”

“To jump the broom as two queer Black men in love,” he added, was an experience “we will cherish for eternity.”

“Our wedding was a mix of our experiences,” Starrene Rocque, 39, said of the ceremony that she and Anslem Rocque, 45, held on Jan. 14, 2012, at the Akwaaba Mansion in Brooklyn, where they live.

Ms. Rocque, a freelance journalist, is from the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, and has ancestors who lived in North Carolina, Georgia and Jamaica. Mr. Rocque, who works in branded content, was raised in Brooklyn; his family is from Grenada and St. Lucia.

The couple had their ancestry in mind in deciding to jumping the broom at their ceremony. “We saw it as an opportunity to bless our union in a way that was distinctly Black,” Mr. Rocque said.

They purchased a broom from Amazon, and Ms. Rocque’s friend Kristi Cherry decorated it with ribbons and faux roses in a pink, purple and gray palette that matched the couple’s wedding colors.

“When my best man placed the broom in front of us, we held hands, counted to three, and went for it,” Mr. Roque said. “Everyone cheered and we did a celebratory dance — or more of a quick jig because I can’t really dance. It was a joyous moment and we boogied down the aisle into our future.”

After the wedding, they had the broom framed with one of their invitations and a piece of Ms. Rocque’s veil. The display now hangs above their bed as “a constant reminder of our special day,” Mr. Roque said.

Valerie Newsome Garcia and Sinaka Garcia’s wedding at a former bed-and-breakfast in Brooklyn on March 22, 2018, was the second marriage for both.

While Ms. Garcia, 40, had jumped the broom at her previous wedding, Mr. Garcia, 46, did not. He said that honoring enslaved Africans “who endured innumerable hardships” was one reason they chose to do it. Mr. Garcia, who is Black and Puerto Rican, grew up in Brooklyn, where he owns a welding business; Ms. Garcia was born in Texas and raised outside of Washington, D.C.

The broom they used was decorated by Ms. Garcia, a psychologist, with crafting supplies, as well as “cotton blossoms and a printed copy of my ancestors’ 1866 marriage record,” she said.

The couple, who live in Atlanta, had Mr. Garcia’s daughter, Sanai, serve as a “broom bearer” that brought theirs to the altar. “Before she sat it down,” Ms. Garcia said, Sanai reminded those in attendance of the significance of the moment.

“‘Once you jump over, there’s no jumping back,’” Ms. Garcia recalled her saying.

For now, the broom is on display in their home, but Ms. Garcia intends for it to one day find new owners.

“I’m going to write our names and wedding date on the back of the marriage record and leave room so others can, too, as we pass it down for generations to come,” she said.

Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and Andrew Wilkes, both 36, started dating as sophomores at Hampton University in Virginia.

When it came time to plan their wedding, held on Aug. 14, 2010, at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, Ms. Cudjoe-Wilkes, who was born in Queens and raised in Dallas, and Mr. Wilkes, who was born and raised in Atlanta, knew they would jump the broom.

“The legacy of African Americans choosing commitment in a time when they were seen by America as three-fifths of a human being is why it was important for us,” said Ms. Cudjoe-Wilkes, a founder and pastor at the Double Love Experience, a Baptist church in Brooklyn, where the two live.

“The broom is a tool of resistance and joy,” she added. But securing one was a last-minute endeavor for the couple.

“Somehow we forgot to purchase a broom for the ceremony,” Ms. Cudjoe-Wilkes said. “So our wedding coordinator ran to a local hardware store, purchased a broom and quickly placed a flower on it hours before.”

She described their broom, which the couple still owns, as “a household broom, nothing fancy.”

“We envision our ancestors hopped over the same brooms they used to clean their homes,” Ms. Cudjoe-Wilkes said. “Our broom holds even greater meaning when we think about its simplicity.”

The act of jumping over it “was deeply moving,” said Mr. Wilkes, who is also a founder and pastor at the Double Love Experience. “Tears streamed down my face.”