Annual Oratorical Contest

Every year in December, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site hosts an oratorical contest in the visitor center's auditorium. All students in grades 1-12 are welcome to participate. The goal of the contest is for students to experience the same transformative power of language that Frederick Douglass experienced as a young man.

All students must apply beforehand. It's easy! Just follow these steps.
1. Choose a Speech

Before applying, you need to know which one of Frederick Douglass's speeches you will be reciting. If you need help finding one, the National Park Service has compiled a list of suggested speeches, and the Teaching American History website has links to many of Frederick Douglass's speeches. Feel free to do your own research to find one of Douglass's speeches - there are a lot!
Young student in formal attire giving a speech

A student recites one of Frederick Douglass's speeches at the contest.


2. Complete the Application

Download and review the application packet, fill out the application form, and submit it by 4:00 pm on Friday, November 6, 2015.

Completed applications can be mailed to:

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Attn: Oratorical Contest
1411 W Street SE
Washington, DC, 20020

Completed applications can also be emailed to or faxed to 202-426-0880. Please call 202-426-5961 to confirm receipt of application materials.
3. Memorize and Practice

Memorizing and practicing your speech is key to being an effective and captivating orator. The National Park Service has created a list of tips for memorization and tips for public speaking. You can also get tips from the Columbian Orator, a classic lesson book that Frederick Douglass used when he learned how to give speeches. Want to get an idea of how the judges will evaluate your speech? See the judge's criteria.

The "Podium Points" series can help to teach you different aspects of great oratory. In the videos below, Thembi Duncan (a master from Ford's Theatre) and students from Oyster-Adams Bilingual School guide you through the physical, verbal, and mental skills of oratory. They also give you tips on how to practice your oratory with others.

(Thanks to Ford's Theatre, the National Mall and Memorial Parks, the National Park Foundation, and Meridian Hill Productions for their help in producing these videos.)
4. Deliver the Speech at the Contest

On the big day, you will recite the speech on a stage in a small auditorium at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. The audience is usually made up of judges, other students, and their families. The atmosphere is friendly, exciting, and inspiring.

Visit our multimedia page or our official Flickr page to get an idea of what the oratorical contest looks and feels like. We also keep a list of previous winners.

Did You Know?