Clarence Vicent traces roots to Lake County's first Black families

PEACOCK — Founded in the late 1800s, the community of Peacock still stands today, and Baldwin trustee Clarence Vicent's family was one of the earliest Black families to settle in that area. 

Vicent is well known in the Lake County community and in Baldwin, where he still serves as trustee on the Village of Baldwin Council, a position he's had for years. He will be 98-years-old March 7. 

"I'm hoping to get over 100 or more, that's what I want to do. I'm getting there. Only two more years to go," Vicent said. 

His boyhood memories trace back to Peacock, which is in Peacock Township not far northwest of the Wolf Lake area. While it's a bit off the main road, M-37, back when it was a bustling town, it was a central area between Luther to the east, Irons to the north and Baldwin to the south. The Manistee & Grand Rapids Railroad ran through it, as well as the Pere Marquette Railroad. The old Manistee and Luther Railroad ran a bit to the north. 

The town was named after post postmaster David J. Peacock, with the post office opening April 5, 1897, and was created as a lumber camp, railroad station and postal stop on the railroad.  As families settled in, some of the places included a livery stable, general store/hotel, one-room school, a church and pickle station. The post office closed by 1943. 

The Black settlement in Peacock had about 16 families, and more than 40 people. These families played an important part in the town's growth and history. They worshiped at the Peacock Christ Community Church, and their lov,ed ones were buried in the Peacock Cemetery when they would pass on, a burial ground for Black families. 

Across the street from the church was the one-room Peacock School (with grades up to eighth) where Vicent attended grade-school. The upper level of the school was used as a community center and township offices, according to Jill Engelman, curator of Lake County Historical Museum. 


The Vicent family, who had a farm east of Peacock station, was very involved with the Peacock Christ Community Church, with Vicent's parents William and Edna being among the founders of the church.

"I was in that church many years ago. That's why I have had such a long life. God has blessed me." he said. "I was about 5 years old when I started getting into church, and I've been in church ever since. God's been taking good care of me. "

His dad, William, was born July 4, 1850, into slavery. He died March 9, 1947, short of turning 97, and was interred in the Peacock Cemetery. In the Star, following his death, it was noted that Edna found a clipping which said William was 15-years-old when Abraham Lincoln was shot. William also served in the township, such as being constable in 1942.  

Vicent graduated May 20, 1943 from Norman Dickson High School in Brethren. On Nov. 12, 1943, he left to enter the Service at the Detroit Induction Center, according to the Star. 

In 1944, Christ Community Church gave a New Year's program, and Vicent sang, "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere."

It was also in his young manhood Vicent began teaching Bible class at the church, for years. 

"March 7 and I'll be 98," Vicent said. "Living about 100 years, I've been through a lot of things where I could have got killed. The other day, I tripped and could have broke my back, but God blessed me, and I just fell back into my chair. I feel good, no pains, but really glad I didn't fall the other day."

As a young man, Vicent worked for the Pere Marquette Railroad in a life-long career, well into when it switched to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. He raised his own family in the Baldwin community, and passed down his faith and music abilities. 

"I worked for the railroad for years. That's a very dangerous job. In the old days they wouldn't even insure you. I worked with dust," he said, feeling thankful his health has been preserved with dust being hard on the lungs. 

He recalled washouts on the railroad, such as a bad washout on the railroad in Peacock in 1903. In the washout of 1986, he was working on the railroad and saw the destruction first hand. 

"When I worked in 1986, there was a washout at Frank Smith Road and the whole railroad bed washed right out, 100 foot down. We're sitting on Lake Michigan and somehow the sand washed out," he said. 

Vicent loves being able to help solve community problems by sitting on the Village of Baldwin council. Some of the things he's advocated for is a stoplight at the intersection entering into town on U.S. 10 and M-37, and he has worked with other council members to help get the Eighth Street Bridge rebuilt, which was washed out in a 2019 flood. 

Vicent loves history, and has been closely connected with the Lake County Historical Society with his wealth of knowledge.

He has enjoyed reading old Lake County Stars through the years. He recalled reading about when he was born. 

"In 1925, it was a really bad day, about 25 below zero and about 4-feet of snow on the ground," he said. 

In Peacock, along with the Black settlers and white settlers, there also was a Native American community. The Lake County Historical Museum recently received donations from Peacock Township of eight rustic log chairs which sat in the hall for decades, Engelman said, and they also are expecting a donation of a bench that was at the church, which Vicent remembers sitting on — almost a century ago.