The 9-foot-tall bronze figure slowly descended toward a black granite pedestal. Below the crane carrying his creation, artist Ed Dwight wasn't exactly sitting down to wait for a smooth landing.
Dwight, 72, clambered up the base with his measuring tape. He jumped on a cherry picker to call out directions to his work crew. He knelt on the sidewalk to see if the newly poured concrete was level.
After four hours Monday, the installation was complete. Before him on the campus of Anne Arundel Community College stood Dwight's likeness of Martin Luther King Jr., wrapped in plastic. Only the brown shoes peeked out.
The rest of Maryland's first memorial artwork honoring King will be unveiled Sunday.
Organizers say that the form, overlooking an amphitheater, seemingly reaches out to the people, true to the spirit of the civil rights leader and Southern Baptist preacher.
The ceremony is timed for the eve of the 43rd anniversary of King's spellbinding "I Have a Dream" speech, which he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington.
Annapolis native Carl O. Snowden, an aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens, led the effort to build the $400,000 privately funded memorial.
"I have been begging, cajoling and doing everything I can do to get people to contribute to this historic event," Snowden, 53, said. The fundraising campaign, he said, has reached the $250,000 mark, and he is counting on the county's annual King memorial breakfast and awards dinner gatherings to pay off the remainder.
Snowden said the community college donated the site for the public art, which is meant to link King's legacy to younger generations. In future years, he said, he hopes the college will open an institute in King's name devoted to nonviolence studies.
Linda S. Schulte, a college spokeswoman, said that students will now have a visual reminder of King at all hours - the memorial plaza will be illuminated at night.
Schulte, 59, went to the March on Washington with several other Baltimore teenagers, taking a train as a part of a 1960s "pilgrimage," she said.
She's among the many people who said the memorial came not a moment too soon. Its dedication, which will be attended by lawmakers across the state, falls more than 38 years since the April day King died in 1968.
"I will be there on Sunday or my name isn't Eliza C. Smith," said Eliza C. Smith, 86, a vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Anne Arundel County branch. Smith was also part of the multitude that heard King's 1963 "Dream" speech. "You wonder, why didn't we do something about a memorial sooner?"
Born a few years apart, King and Dwight never met, though both broke race barriers. In 1947, Dwight said, he was the first black student to enroll in his Roman Catholic school in Kansas City, Kan.
As an Air Force pilot, he was chosen to be an astronaut in President John F. Kennedy's space program. He never journeyed into space.
Rather, he took up a second career as a largely self-taught artist. Based in Denver, Dwight has created a host of artwork honoring African-Americans across the nation, including the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial on the Annapolis waterfront, honoring the late author and his slave ancestor portrayed in Roots.
King's rich voice inspired the artist while he worked on the new statue.
"I listened to his speeches in my studio as I worked, because it changes how you view things," he said.
The campus, Dwight said, was his first choice. He plans to install a collection of King quotes on plaques around the plaza, he said, for passersby to absorb.
"Education means responsibility," Dwight said. "It means thinking morally and ethically, asking, 'Why are you here?'"
At one point during Monday's installation of the 2,700-pound statue, Dwight perched on the pedestal to make sure all was right with the head.
King had an usually large head for his 5-foot-7-inch frame, Dwight said. His bronze King is standing and holding a book in one hand and reaching out with the other, he explained. He is depicted in a single-breasted suit, in the "prime of his life right before he died," Dwight said.
Keith Boone, 37, who oversaw the construction of the concrete plaza and wall, said the work became personal.
"I've done multiple projects, and this is the most exciting," Boone said. "I want my [5-year-old] daughter to see this, and one day she may understand him."
The dedication of the King memorial, free and open to the public, will take place Sunday at 3 p.m., rain or shine. Enter the college in Arnold on West Campus Drive off Ritchie Highway. For information, call 410-222-1821.