Annual Oratorical Contest

Every year, 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.

We welcome students from across the country to apply!

This year's contest was held on December 6-7, 2019. Here are the winners:

Elementary - Grades 1-3
1st Place Earnest Davis
2nd Place Kaitlyn Saunders
3rd Place Spriha Mohanty
4th Place Sasha Wilson

Junior - Grades 4-5
1st Place Daniel Montgomery & Edrick Trotter
2nd Place Imara Brown
3rd Place Sahar Brown
4th Place Tayler Ridout

Junior High - Grades 6-8
1st Place Ayan Brown
2nd Place Carliegh Lewis
3rd Place Isiah Montgomery
4th Place Anastajia Charley

Senior High - Grades 9-12
1st Place Lauren Bradshaw
2nd Place Siddhi Chitgopkar
3rd Place Assad Jenkins

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! Make sure you will be reciting a speech, NOT an editorial or written piece.
2. Complete the Application

Download and review the application packet, fill out the application form, and submit it. Applications are due by Friday, November 22, 2019 at 4:00pm.
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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A student delivers a speech to an audience

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A man reads a speech from the front porch of a historic house


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Last updated: February 4, 2020

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