My name is Ade Ajani Ofunniyin. I am the grandson of the legendary Charleston Blacksmith, Philip Simmons. I humbly receive the acknowledgements of my granddad's greatness and my connection to that legacy. I take both very seriously.
I was born in Charleston and remained here until age seven when I moved to New York City to join my young mother, Frances Vernon, Philips’ eldest daughter. Until the age of seven I walked in my grandfathers’ shadows. My grandfather and I often laughed as we recalled our good times together. I modeled my grandfather and knew at a very early age that he was a great man. As a young boy, there were many occasions when I accompanied him and waited while he visited a friend or met with a customer. Those seven brief years influenced my outlook on life. We are bonded forever, even until this day.
I returned to Charleston in 1985 at the age of thirty-two. I came to honor my grandfather’s request and to meet my destiny. Although I physically left Charleston at seven, my spirit and my heart were enjoined to the soul of this holy city. As an adult, I now appreciate why granddad found such joy in just walking the streets of Charleston. Even in his twilight years, he frequently refused rides in friend’s cars, preferring to walk or take a bus.
I returned to Charleston and apprenticed in Philip Simmons’ blacksmith shop. Through working with him I was able to experience Charleston through the eyes of granddad and the few remaining artisans who frequented the shop. Many of them still came to the shop for advice or the repair of some tool, trailer, or household appliance. Several brought ironwork projects to the shop. Some of the work eventually fell my way and I created my own relationships. Despite my earnest attempts at blacksmithing, my granddad always said that I didn’t spend enough time at the forge. He respected that I had other interests and he encouraged me to forge a life beyond the shop.
I left Charleston again in 1998 to pursue a PhD in Anthropology at the University of Florida. My deciding to go to graduate school was partly due to an injury that I sustained in an auto accident. I still suffer back-pain and deliberately avoid too much heavy lifting. Granddad is also partly responsible for my returning to school. On more than a few occasions, when I should have been in the shop, he found me in the house reading books. After the injury I shared my interest in returning to school and earning a professional degree, he encouraged my vision.
My MA degree is in archaeology and connected my family’s blacksmithing business with blacksmithing traditions in Africa. Peter Schmidt the pre-eminent scholar on African ironwork supervised my studies. I traveled to Nigeria, West Africa and Kenya, East Africa to examine working traditions in several blacksmithing communities. I discovered new ways of understanding blacksmithing and its importance to African societies. I wrote several papers and presented my research at academic conferences. My PhD research and dissertation investigated the religious/spiritual development of Ifa/Orisa practitioners in the African diaspora.
I graduated with a PhD from the University of Florida’s Anthropology program in 2008. My Grandfather deceased in 2009. I came back to Charleston a few weeks before his final rest. I am certain that his spirit summoned me home. I came again to meet my destiny and to enjoy Charleston’s beautiful sunrises, sunsets, and landscape
Since returning to Charleston I also founded Studio PS/Gullah Theatre at 10 Conroy Street in Midtown Charleston. My vision for the studio was that it would be a community theatre and gallery, where local artists could develop their talents and create and display their works of art. We featured Gullah theatrical performances. Our intention was to demonstrate a more accurate and real view of Gullah people and culture. The studio also had a restaurant that served wholesome and tasty Gullah cuisine.
I am currently an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston. I teach the following courses; Critical Dialogue on Race, Gender and Diversity and Design With Culture: Documenting, Interpreting, and Preserving Charleston Gullah Traditions in Cemeteries. The dialogue course engages students in meaningful dialogue about racism, sexism and related forms of oppression. Design With Culture provides a framework for students to gain fieldwork experience at my Daniel Island Sacred Burial Grounds Project and an upcoming Edisto Island Sacred Burial Grounds Project.
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The Gullah Society P.O. Box 2187 Mount Pleasant, SC 29465