December 1, 2017 - Vol. 1, Issue 12
Jumping the Broom 10

"Jumping the Broom" 11
Harriette Cole
Sterling Plumpp
Opalanga D. Pugh
Napolean Brandford, III
Lanier W. Phillips
As HistoryMaker and author Harriette Cole states in her book, Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner, “In America, customs among people of color had to be re-created.” 1 This statement is no better exemplified than in the African American wedding custom of “jumping the broom.”

Leslie M. Alexander and Walter C. Rucker, Jr. in the Encyclopedia of African American History concur, stating of the history of the wedding tradition, “In a number of African cultures, the broom symbolizes the beginnings of shared domestic life. During slavery, African American couples were denied the right to legally marry. The practice of jumping the broom emerged as a symbolic means of entering into marriage. In these instances, slaves would gather either in secret or with the permission of the slave owner to witness a couple’s pledge of devotion. At the conclusion of the pledge, a broom would be placed on the ground in front of them, and they would jump over it to mark their transition into married life.” 2

Sonar technician and HistoryMaker Lanier W. Phillips recalls his paternal grandparents, Adeline and Eli Phillips, who, as slaves, established their union in Lithonia, Georgia in this way: “I do know they both were slaves and their owner’s name was Phillips, so when they got married, they--as they say, when they jumped over the broom, they didn’t have to change no name or nothing because both of ‘em’s name was Phillips” 3 [Lanier W. Phillips, THMDA 1.1.5].   

Christopher R. Free and Jeffrey B. Webb remark in American Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore, that “Jumping the broom appears not to have been a custom of slavery, but instead was a part of African culture that survived American slavery.” 4 Investment executive and HistoryMaker Napoleon Brandford, III speaks to the continuation of this custom, recalling his maternal grandparents’ decision to retain the practice in their own wedding after slavery ended: “When I was in graduate school, I took black history. And what I would do is, is I would read a chapter, I would sit down with my grandfather Eli Harris and kind of walk me through what it was really like and what the book said. And he mentioned that when my grandmother and he got married in the 1920s they jumped across the broom, even though they had a legal marriage too, but they did all the traditional things” 5 [Napoleon Brandford, III, THMDA 1.1.6] .

While significant in its preservation, Rick Halpern and Enrico Dal Lago in Slavery and Emancipation conversely argue of the tradition: “The act of ‘jumping the broom’ as part of slave marriage ritual is important to consider, not only because it was a popular practice, but also because of its cultural and sociopolitical implications,” and that “by imposing this cultural albatross on slaves, southern whites suggested the lack of respect and honor that they held for their blacks’ attempts to create meaningful marital relationships. The slaves’ acceptance of this practice, on the other hand, demonstrated the ability of slave culture to absorb, reconfigure, and legitimize new ritual forms, even those masters imposed out of jest or ridicule.” 6 Similarly, Free and Webb observe that when African Americans were allowed to have European-style weddings, some associated the custom with the taboo of slavery: “During this time, jumping the broom fell out of practice due to the stigma that it carried and because African Americans wanted nothing to do with the slave era.” 7
Poet and HistoryMaker Sterling Plumpp talks about his maternal grandfather's silence on the tradition: “They were rather reticent about saying anything about slavery other than it was hard times. When I did see individuals who had been slaves, it would have been in the mid to the late 1940s, and they would have been eighty to ninety years old. And when I would ask questions about what they had said, they would all talk about, 'Us jumped over the broom,' you know, and didn't know chickens had nothing but heads and foots, you know, used language like that, you know; 'Old master tanned so and so’s hide.' And it's more of the tone than the theme because they would almost say it as if they were reliving it. And I don't think my grandfather or my grandmother wanted us to hear that” 8 [Sterling Plumpp, THM DA 1.1.3].
Despite lingering stigma, the tradition witnessed a resurgence in the 1970s, following the broom jumping ceremony featured in the televised version of Alex Haley’s Roots, and survives today. HistoryMaker and professional storyteller Opalanga D. Pugh, who leads broom jumping ceremonies at African American weddings, speaks to the modern ceremony’s symbolism, spirituality and history: “I sit with them before the ceremony to speak, you know,  what’s soul for them and what their commitments are. I will say: ‘Jumping the broom is one of the ways for gotten married in the slavery days. The two stood upon the land, the elder held the broomstick in his hand. Jump high, jump low. The elder gave the signal for them to go, and they jumped oh, they jumped oh, and when the wedding was almost through, the bride picked up the broom, she had work to do. If you don’t believe me check your history 'cause that’s the way the story is told to me, told to me, told to me.’ So I create an experience so that the people in that arena can also take a leap in consciousness. So when this couple jumps, I want you to take a leap. Jump from that place into this one. So when they jump, you take a leap in consciousness. So everybody gets the movement that we can hold the space for this couple to come through” 9   [Opalanga D. Pugh, THMDA 1.6.6].

"I've Been Blessed"
The HistoryMakers Remembers Della Reese-Lett 12

We at The HistoryMakers promise to continue celebrating the life of HistoryMaker Della Reese-Lett, who passed away this previous month on November 19, 2017. Reese-Lett, who was a legendary television actress and singer, began recording music in 1953 and was the first African American woman to host her own television program. In 2004, we honored her incredible life with An Evening With Della Reese, during which she considered her legacy:
“Let me say this, I've been blessed. I've had different generations. I had the generation that grew up with me. Then I had their children because their children heard my music in their mother and father's houses. Then I had their children's children because I started in television. And so the, their children's children got to know me. One day, we were on the elevator, and a lady of my generation got on with her grandchild, and she wanted to impress the child with who I was. And she said, 'This is Della Reese. She's a great singer.' And the little girl said, ‘No, that's Mr. T's mama.’ That's the part I was playing that--she didn't know nothing about me singing. She was about nine. She didn't know nothing about that. To her I was Mr. T's mama. That's who I was. So I have all these generations of people who remember me for different things. You played ‘Don't You Know.’ I can't tell you how many people across the world used that to get married on. That's a wonderful thing to have. People come up to me and say, 'I've been married to him forty-two years, and we got married on that song about love.' All songs are about love. 'What song?' You know, then I have to figure, which one. That's the one it is. And that's a marvelous thing" 13 [Della Reese-Lett, THMDA 1.1.25].
This week, 20 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
Naomi King

Civil rights activist Naomi King (1931 - ) was the wife of the late A.D. Williams King, brother to Martin Luther King, Jr. She and her husband supported the Civil Rights Movement. King received the SCLC Rosa Parks Freedom Award in January 2008.
The Honorable Patsy Jo Hilliard

Education administrator and mayor The Honorable Patsy Jo Hilliard (1937 - ) was the first African American and the first female mayor of East Point, Georgia. She served on the Executive Board of the Atlanta NAACP and as President of the Atlanta chapters of The Links, Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Andrew Heidelberg

Banker, civic leader, and cultural heritage lecturer Andrew Heidelberg (1943 - 2015 ) was a member of The Norfolk 17 who strove for desegregation in the South in the late 1950s. He lectured at events about the impact of segregation and civil rights.
Ada Anderson

Community leader Ada Anderson (1921 - ) was the first African American elected to the board of the Austin Community College District. For her work with civil rights, she received several awards, including 'Woman of the Year.'
Thomas C. Holt

African american history professor Thomas C. Holt (1942 - ) was the James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History at the University of Chicago. Holt was most known for his work on race, labor and politics in post-emancipation societies.
Cassandra Newby-Alexander

History professor Cassandra Newby-Alexander (1957 - ) taught African American history at Norfolk State University. She also wrote several books and created multimedia websites about segregation and the civil rights movement in Virginia.

Artis Hampshire-Cowan

Academic administrator Artis Hampshire-Cowan (1955 - ) served as vice president for human resource management, senior vice president and acting president at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She also acted as general counsel of the RFK Stadium authority, and special counsel to Wayne Curry.

The Honorable Michael Nutter

Mayor The Honorable Michael Nutter (1957 - ) was the third African American mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Dennis Hightower

Business professor and broadcast executive Dennis Hightower (1941 - ) was the president of Walt Disney Television and Communications. As president, he oversaw Disney's acquisition of ABC, ABC Family, ESPN, A&E and Lifetime Networks. Upon his retirement in June 1996, Hightower joined the faculty of Harvard Business School, initially as a senior lecturer and then as a professor of management in the M.B.A. program. He also acted as the Deputy Secretary of Commerce from 2009 to 2010.
Michael W. Lewis

Corporate executive Michael W. Lewis (1949 - ) was the executive vice president of the Harris Trust and Savings Bank and a member of several executive business boards.
Vance Vaucresson

Entrepreneur Vance Vaucresson (1968 - ) served as president of the New Orleans-based Vaucresson Sausage Company, the longest standing vendor at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Louis Jones

Architect and corporate chief executive Louis Jones (1946 - ) was president of Louis Jones Enterprises, Inc. and served on the board of directors for the Black Contractors United.

Cullen L. Dubose

Construction executive Cullen L. Dubose (1935 - ) was the chief operating officer for Painia Development Corporation from 1977 to 2008, and was appointed to the Michigan Economic Growth Authority in 2003 by Governor Jennifer Granholm.
Reverend Bill Lawson

Pastor Reverend Bill Lawson (1928 - ) was the founding pastor of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and the namesake of the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace & Prosperity. He was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement in Houston, Texas.
Imam Vernon Fareed

Civic leader and imam Imam Vernon Fareed (1953 - 2017 ) is the distinguished leader of the Masjid William Salaam and has won many awards for his work in the community including the VCIC's Humanitarian Award in 2007.
Sam Gilliam

Painter Sam Gilliam (1933 - ) emerged from the Washington Color School to work in various painting styles and influence numerous schools of art. He created works for the San Francisco and Philadelphia Museums of Art, and won two National Endowment of the Arts Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Amina J. Dickerson

Playwright and foundation executive Amina J. Dickerson (1954 - ) was the director of global community involvement for the Kraft Foods Company until 2009. Dickerson also served in executive capacities with Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History and the Chicago Historical Society.

Daniel Texidor Parker

Art collector, curator, and educator Daniel Texidor Parker (1941 - ) was a counselor at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago, Illinois; and a collector of African, Caribbean and Asian art. His book 'African Art: The Diaspora and Beyond' was published in 2005.
Ellis Marsalis, Jr.

Jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, Jr. (1934 - ) directed Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans from 1989 to 2001. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame on December 7, 2008.
John "Deacon" Moore

Musician and singer John "Deacon" Moore (1941 - ) , commonly known as Deacon John, lead the musical group Deacon John & the Ivories and in 2008 was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
1.       Harriette Cole, Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner. Macmillan, 2004.
2.       Leslie M. Alexander, Walter C. Rucker, Jr. Encyclopedia of African American History. ABC-CLIO, February 9, 2010.
3.       Lanier W. Phillips (The HistoryMakers A2007.219), interviewed by Cheryl Butler, July 29, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 5, Lanier W. Phillips describes his father's family background
4.       Christopher R. Fee, Jeffrey B. Webb. American Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore. ABC-CLIO, August 29, 2015.
5.       Napoleon Brandford, III (The HistoryMakers A2003.167), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, July 24, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 6, Napoleon Brandford shares memories from his childhood
6.       Rick Halpern, Enrico Dal Lago, Slavery and Emancipation. John Wiley and Sons, April 15, 2008.
7.       Christopher R. Fee, Jeffrey B. Webb. American Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore. ABC-CLIO, August 29, 2015.
8.     Sterling Plumpp (The HistoryMakers A2003.069), interviewed by Larry Crowe, April 8, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 3, Sterling Plumpp recalls his family's reluctance to share stories of American slavery
9.       Opalanga D. Pugh (The HistoryMakers A2008.120), interviewed by Denise Gines, November 3, 2008, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 6, Opalanga D. Pugh talks about facilitating broom jumping ceremonies
10.   Banner photo; broom jumping ceremony. Can be found:
13. Della Reese-Lett (The HistoryMakers A2004.087), interviewed by Lorraine Toussaint, June 18, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 25, Della Reese considers her legacy

Spot an error in The HistoryMakers Digital Archive ? We want to fix it! Send a brief description of the error to:
We're here to help! Please direct questions about The HistoryMakers Digital Archive to:
Browse our collection at: