Stan Lee, the creator of numerous properties for Marvel Comics including Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and Iron Man was a visionary. But in September of 1963 when he debuted his second team of heroes, the X-Men, It was not a complete work of fiction.
The two central characters from the comic, Professor Charles Xavier and his archnemesis Erik Lensher were two sides of the same coin, each pursuing freedom for the mutant minority. This clash of ideologies was based off the real life conflict between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Professor X represented the peaceful, moderate view of equality between all races displayed by Martin Luther King Jr. and Magneto represented the more violent and combative tactics of Malcolm X. While both championed for the rights of African-Americans (and their counterparts for Mutant rights), the ways in which they sought their freedom were drastically different.
Malcolm X was at his height a complex man of intensity and self-determination. But Malcolm Little, like Magneto, had a reason for his perceived “madness.” Little’s father was murdered when he was only six years old and his mother not long after was sent to a mental hospital. Little then spent time in several foster homes trying to find his place.
He was later incarcerated in 1946 at the age of 20 for breaking and entering. It is here that his path became solidified in history changing his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, when he became a member of the Nation of Islam. Though initially doing everything that he should have advocating for the separation between blacks and whites, speaking on the virtues of black supremacy, and fighting the good fight; Malcolm X became too extreme and too unruly and in his wake created the Black Nationalist Party.
This is very similar to Magneto’s formation of the Brotherhood of Mutants. The roster of which has changed numerous times over the years, but often targets anti-mutant public figures and fights for mutant superiority. The group forms and as a result, Eric Lensher takes on the mutant code name, Magneto, again similar to Malcolm X’s own name change.
Martin Luther King Jr. (named after the German reformer Martin Luther) was a proud black man and a Baptist minister. 50-years later when one speaks of civil rights, his name alone carries the weight and sacredness of a people, if any name could. From his march in Washington to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King stood as an Olympic figure of ethical fortitude.
Charles Xavier was born much like MLK jr., away from war, he developed as a talented speaker and a respected professor of genetics, biophysics, psychology, and anthropology. Many teams such as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four among other individuals hold him in very high regard.
Though he would later repudiate the Nation of Islam’s teachings and even towards the end move closer to an ideological trust with Martin Luther King, looking at the life Malcolm X led it becomes apparent that while the things that we do affect other people. The things that people do to us, affects who we become.
Magneto, both in the last trilogy and more recently in the comics, has since Professor X’s apparent death moved closer to Xavier’s own ideology as well even threatening mutants in the Brotherhood for mocking Xavier during X-Men: The Last Stand. Magneto said, “Charles Xavier has done more for mutants than you or anyone else.”
And in both cases the seemingly radical counter-part of each couple succeeded the more rational MLK or Prof. X, several years beyond their deaths.
While this may seem like it didn’t matter much in the end, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. both championed for freedom and as X-Men: Days of Future Past will illustrate had they had more time together King and Malcolm X could’ve worked together towards a more beneficial future.