Spielberg to receive 2009 Liberty Medal: Filmmaker cited as 'champion of freedom'

When Steven Spielberg accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes this year, the director, who spent part of his childhood in Haddon Township, N.J., recalled seeing his first movie, "The Greatest Show on Earth," in Philadelphia with his father.

Spielberg will return to Philadelphia in October to accept another award, the 2009 Liberty Medal, for making some of his own greatest shows and for documenting the power of the human spirit in the face of humanity's darkest moments, it was announced yesterday.

Director Steven Spielberg

Each year the Liberty Medal is awarded to "men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people across the world," National Constitution Center President Linda E. Johnson said.

Spielberg was chosen for his work on films such as "Schindler's List," "Amistad" and "The Color Purple," all of which explore themes of freedom and oppression, and for establishing the Shoah Foundation, which has filmed 105,000 hours of testimony from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust.

"It is the largest archive of visual history in the world," said Stephen A. Cozen, a foundation board member and founder and chairman of the Cozen O'Connor law firm. "The archives have encapsulated the living history of the Holocaust and enabled us to learn what the bigotry, hatred and suffering cost on a first-name basis."

The archive, which Spielberg was inspired to create while making "Schindler's List," was expanded recently to include testimonials from the Rwandan genocide, Cozen said.

Former President Bill Clinton, chairman of the National Constitution Center, will present the award to Spielberg at a ceremony on Oct. 8.

In a prepared statement, Clinton, who was in North Korea yesterday negotiating for the freedom of two jailed American journalists, called Spielberg "my friend" and "a highly deserving champion of freedom."

Spielberg said in a statement that he was thrilled to be honored "by an organization unprecedented in its devotion to the most relevant and significant document in our nation's history.

"It's truly humbling to be added to the distinguished list of past recipients, a group of men and women whom I admire deeply for their commitment to educating the world about the importance of freedom and the blessings of liberty," Spielberg wrote.

Past recipients include Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk (1993), former Secretary of State Colin Powell (2002) and U2 lead singer Bono (2007).