Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Activist, nurse, and community leader Jacqueline Khan dies at 91

Jacqueline Kahn successfully fought segregation at a Washington hospital where she was a nurse.

Jacqueline Khan, who died Oct. 19, 2020.
Jacqueline Khan, who died Oct. 19, 2020.Read moreKhan family photo

When Jacqueline Khan started working as a nurse at Washington, D.C. General Hospital back in 1950, she was told to keep white and Black patients separated in the maternity ward. Instead, she kept bringing white patients to the rooms designated for Black patients, and vice versa.

The hospital gave up trying to stop her. The ward has been integrated ever since.

“Who’s going to stop this 120-pound woman?” her son Amir Khan asked. “They had guards separating the wards, and [she would] just push right by the guards ... dare you to stop her.”

Wherever she went, be it to the workplace or the South Jersey neighborhoods where she raised her family, Ms. Khan stood out as a compassionate community leader and civil rights activist, up until her death at 91 of heart failure on Oct. 19 at Samaritan Center at Voorhees.

“She was the most unselfish and most brave person I’ve ever known,” said her daughter Sherena Khan, who is also a registered nurse. “In nursing, we give until we give no more. My mother was that type of old-fashioned nurse where she would do anything for her patients, her family.”

Ms. Khan was born in Philadelphia’s Germantown section to barbershop owner Richard Ellis Driver and homemaker Helen Birchett Driver. Her older brother, Richard “Sonny” Driver, founded Scoop USA, a newspaper that continues to serve Delaware Valley communities.

She attended Howard University where she met her husband, Dr. Mustapha Khan, who immigrated to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago, and practiced medicine in Camden for decades before his death in 2009.

At Howard, she was outspoken about racial injustice and has always been “a trailblazer, a fighter, and just a real great spirit that brought transformation to a lot of people," according to Amir, who is a pastor and activist himself.

“We don’t serve coloreds here,” a server at a D.C. Woolworth counter once told Ms. Khan, then a senior at Howard. After paying for ice cream at the back of the shop, she returned to the front and smashed her vanilla cone into the counter.

“I didn’t come here to eat colored, I came to eat ice cream,” she said.

The Khans moved from Arlington, Va., to Camden, and then to Cherry Hill in 1967, where they were one of two Black families in the neighborhood, according to Amir Kahn.

Neighbors fired shots into their windows and threw eggs over their fence while they were using the pool in the backyard. But Ms. Khan persevered. She helped integrate the local chapter of the American Medical Association, and was adamant that her children’'s school remove books with racial slurs, such as Huckleberry Finn, from their libraries.

“We were very fortunate to have a mother who, in spite of strife, believed in beauty, and in spite of struggle, believed in the dream, Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream,” her son Ricardo said. A playwright and director, Ricardo founded Crossroads Theatre, which is the first Black American theater company to win a Regional Theatre Tony award.

While raising her children and encouraging them to go to college and follow their dreams, Ms. Khan was fulfilling her own dreams by uplifting others.

She spent years leading local chapters of community organizations like the National Medical Association and Jack and Jill of America, as well as other mentorship programs where she inspired young Black youth to pursue careers in medicine. She also volunteered to serve as a nurse at numerous local schools.

Ms. Khan’s son Rasheed, who is a doctor, said his mother’s career in nursing stemmed from her general love of service.

“She got started in nursing because of her desire to help,” he said. “She wanted to continue to just help people in whatever, so she wasn’t just a nurse as a profession, it was in her heart.”

But she was as much a woman of science as she was a woman of God.

“She was a strong believer in Jesus and the Bible, and she taught us that, and told us how to have a relationship with Him, and to use that in all of our decisions in life,” Rasheed said. “They do not have to be opposites of each other. Faith and science work together.”

Ms. Khan cast her vote in the 2020 election shortly before her death, and Amir is proud that her vote still counts. Ricardo said his mother would be out protesting for civil rights if she had been younger during the Black Lives Matter movement.

“She would have been out there marching,” Ricardo said. "She used to do so much for people in pain.”

In addition to children Amir, Rasheed, Ricardo and Sherena, she is survived by another son, Mustapha Jr.; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

A graveside service was held for Ms. Khan at Locustwood Memorial Park in Cherry Hill.