Muhammad Ali became a close associate to Malcolm X and he looked to Malcolm much as a mentor. They knew each other as active members of the Nation of Islam until Malcolm X left the group in 1964 and was killed in 1965 by NOI members. Ali didn’t leave the group until 1975. Ali and Malcolm were really good friends. Cassius even let Malcolm and his family stay with him for a couple weeks and have him front row seats before he fought Sonny Liston. However they did become estranged once Malcolm X had his falling out with Elijah Muhammad and Ali was still associated with Elijah.
But what did Malcolm X do for black rights in America as opposed to Martin Luther King Jr? Malcolm X was an extremely important figure in the civil rights movement. He went from working odd jobs to hustler, ended up in jail, converted to Islam because of his family, became a member of the Nation of Islam, became a leader (the second man after Elijah Muhammad), converting and opening new mosques, was way more ‘aggressive’ and confronting then the others (that’s why he was so successful as a ‘preacher’). In the beginning he was also very very fierce, actively calling on blacks to stand up and fight, wanted to create two nations, one for blacks, one for whites etc. After he went on a hajj pilgrimage he came in contact with the more realistic form of Islam, one that was not influenced by Elijah. So in the end he split and opened his own Muslim Mosque Inc., stopped talking about hate and about acceptance. He also went to Africa, saw what blacks could do and achieve, and actively lobbied with the then African nations against the US during the UN resolution/voting process.
As a leader for civil rights he was hugely important, but also arguably damaging to the movement. While Dr. King was a proponent of non violence and a Christian Minister, X was a Muslim leader that – in accordance with the teachings of the Nation of Islam – espoused black supremacy and black separatism. He left the Nation of Islam in 1964 and was quoted saying “I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then… pointed in a certain direction and told to march.” He was assassinated a few months later, by members of the Nation of Islam.
Interesting fact: To be clean and presentable was an intentional part of the movement, with intention to defy the stereotype of “dirty” blacks.