In 1958, 22-year-old mechanical engineer packed his Texas bags and headed north to work for Boeing in Seattle.
Back then the consciousness of America was different, said Eason, who recently received a pin acknowledging 50 years of federal government service.
In this time, he’s been honored often for his contributions to the district and the community.
He’s served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Operations Desert Storm and Shield, as chairman of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, and is the current president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of the Alaska, Oregon and Washington State-Area Conference.
"When I left, San Antonio had a ‘separate, but equal’ concept," Eason said as he reflected on how his career began and how the country has changed in the last half century. "My father owned a service station that had two water fountains, one of which we legally couldn’t use. It seems ridiculous now."
During the four years Eason worked for Boeing, social change was happening in America and the civil rights movement was building.
In 1962 Eason applied for a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, despite being told he probably wouldn’t be hired. He said at that time, people were even surprised to learn he, a black man, was a mechanical engineer.
"This guy, Gephardt, decided to give me a chance," Eason said. "He warned me I’d take a lot of flak, but I considered it a privilege to work for the government."
And when a co-worker made a racial slur toward him, the commander immediately corrected him. That act of humanity transformed the way Eason saw his coworkers.
It wasn’t very comfortable 50 years ago when workplace integration was in its infancy, he said. "But I felt comfortable working for people who had the nerve to defend me like that and treat me like a human being."
Insults didn’t bother Eason. Instead he sought to make the workplace better for everyone.
"I grew up being called names and I got used to it," he said. "If Jackie Robinson let insults penetrate him in baseball, he’d never have been able to hit the ball when he got up to bat; he’d never have set those records."
As the civil rights movement was changing the world around him, he too became an instrument of change by getting involved in various organizations at work.
One such organization was Blacks In Government (BIG), which began in 1975 as a national grass roots organization to promote and support the well-being, education and professional development of African Americans in the federal, state, county and municipal sectors. He served as president from 1994 to 1998, representing 2.5 million African-American government employees.
The hardest part wasn’t changing the laws, said Eason. It was changing the internal struggle he felt growing up as a minority and making sense of a "separate, but equal" world that wasn’t separate anymore.
"I’m a good engineer, but it was impossible for me to look at a white person and tell him or her if the idea wasn’t a good one," he explained about the self-doubt he sometimes felt when working in diverse groups. "I had to force myself to communicate. As we integrated the workplace, we all had to learn to coexist."
In 1962, Oscar Eason Jr. took a job at the Seattle District. He was told it would be uncomfortable. Fifty years later, he is still here, making an impact. The reason he said he stayed all these years? It felt comfortable.