Annual Oratorical Contest

Every year in December, the National Park Service hosts an oratorical contest in the auditorium at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. 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.

This year's contest will be held on December 8-9, 2017. Applications were due on November 10, 2017, and are no longer being accepted. Everybody is welcome to observe this year's contest.

If you are interested in applying for the December 2018 contest, please check back here after this year's contest for the dates to be announced. The steps for applying are below.
 
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!
 
2. Complete the Application

Download and review the application packet, fill out the application form, and submit it. Applications for this year's contest were due on Friday, November 10, 2017, and are no longer being accepted. If you're interested in applying for the December 2018 contest, please check back here later.
 
3. Memorize and Practice

Memorizing and practicing your speech is key to being an effective 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 judges' 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.

 
 
 
 
 
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 the Oratorical Contest Multimedia page to get an idea of what the oratorical contest looks and feels like. We also keep a list of previous winners.
 
A young student speaks from a stage to a seated crowd
Participants recite their speeches from a stage in a small auditorium at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

NPS / N. Johnson

 
An actor dressed as Frederick Douglass talks to a crowd

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Last updated: November 14, 2017

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