Black Love Through The Ages

The bond between African-American couples has kept our community strong for generations.

This feature originally appeared in the February 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.

Charreah K. Jackson Feb, 01, 2017

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Take a short trip through our romantic history. 

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Being denied citizenship and the right to marry didn't stop our ancestors from acknowledging commitment during enslavement. Black folks had small "wedding" ceremonies, including the ritual of waving a broom over the couple's head or jumping the broom, a custom believed to have been brought from West Africa.

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African-Americans took great pride in making their unions legal following generations of being unable to do so while enslaved, and had higher marriage rates than White Americans starting in 1890 and holding until the 1960's.

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The Civil Rights Movement was sustained by strong relationships. Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz were monumental in supporting the leadership and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, respectively.

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On Good Times, the adventures of Florida and James Evans revealed many of the experiences of Black couples. We're still grieving the loss of James. Damn, damn, damn!

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“Success is nothing without someone you love to share it with,” says Billy Dee Williams's character Brian to Diana Ross's Tracy in the 1975 film Mahogany. As new career opportunities became available to Black professionals, the reminder to keep relationships a priority was right on time.

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For many, The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show highlighted the advances made by Black families and set great expectations for us to move on up as couples.

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The popularity of Black sitcoms and classic romantic comedies was a much-needed counterbalance to turbulent times.

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Couples in Family Matters, Love Jones, Martin and more kept us laughing and seeing love on the regular.

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America elected President Barack Obama twice, and he and First Lady Michelle Obama have given us #BlackLoveGoals for years to come (in a White House built by enslaved Black Americans). Who and how we love have also expanded with the legalization of same-sex marriage.

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Our devotion to our partners lives on in the digital age, including the many unsexy moments of making a union work that never make the 'gram. In 2003, Nisa Muhammad launched Black Marriage Day, an annual celebration of the perseverance of African-American relationships each March. Visit blackmarriageday.com for details and events.