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 ages 6 to 18 (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 by performing a part of a Douglass speech that they learn from memory before a panel of judges.

This contest is open to students of all abilities. ASL interpreters or interpreters to translate ASL to English will be provided.

We welcome students from across the country to apply!

2023 Oratorical Contest Winners

The On-line contest was held on Thursday, November 30 and the In-person contest was held on Saturday, December 2. The winners are listed below:

1st to 3rd Grade:
  1. Selma White (1st Grade)
  2. Ishan Mohanty (2nd Grade)
  3. Nuri Brown-Lawrence (1st Grade)

4th to 6th Grade:
  1. Vivian Sarah Beth Stewart (5th Grade)
  2. Spriha Mohanty (6th Grade)
  3. Philip Thankachan (6th Grade)

7th to 9th Grade:
  1. London Niemiec (8th Grade)
  2. Taelor Battle (8th Grade)
  3. Miranda Mogollon (8th Grade)

10th to 12th Grade Winner:
Aneesh Mandapati (11th Grade)

Contest Basics

*Please note that this video contains the contest dates from 2022.

1. Choose a Speech
Frederick Douglass wrote and gave many speeches throughout his life and career. To make things a little more simple, we have selected five of his speeches for students to choose from, so before applying, you need to know which one of the four you will be reciting.

The Poughkeepsie Speech - Delivered August 2, 1858

A Friendly Word to Maryland - Delivered November 17, 1864

What the Black Man Wants - Delivered April 1865

Frederick Douglass on Women's Suffrage - Delivered March 31, 1888

The Race Problem - Delivered October 21, 1890

See below ASL videos of the speeches:

*The ASL video for the Women's Suffrage speech is coming soon!

2. Complete the Application

The 2024 Application, Guidelines, and Rules will be update soon. Stay tuned!
3. Memorize and Practice
Memorizing and practicing your speech is key to being an effective orator. Here are a few helpful links for learning how to memorize the lines from the Douglass speech you have selected.

17 Ways to Quickly Memorize Lines
6 Simple Tips for Memorizing Lines

Other Tips for Public Speaking

Schooled By Kids: Presentation Skills, Part 1
Schooled By Kids: Presentation Skills, Part 2

You can also get tips from "The Columbian Orator", a classic lesson book that Frederick Douglass used when he learned how to give speeches.

Another helpful way to learn is to watch others give talks or speeches. You can look online for speakers (like President Barack Obama) who are known for giving powerful speeches or watch a few TedTalks. When you watch these speeches or TedTalks, notice how the speaker uses body language, movement, emphasis, eye contact, etc. Here is an example of a TedTalk from a very engaging speaker:

Making Education Accessible to Deaf Children

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.
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

Attend special events and programs.

A student delivers a speech to an audience
Kids & Youth

Become a Junior Ranger, collect Civil War to Civil Rights trading cards, or participate in the annual oratorical contest.

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

Find lesson plans, distance learning programs, suggested reading lists, opportunities for professional development, and more.

Last updated: December 16, 2023

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Mailing Address:

1411 W Street SE
Washington, DC 20020


This phone number is to the ranger offices at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

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