Biographies/Meredith Sydnor Graham

Tags: Artist Brunete Offensive Artist's Union George Washington Battalion Greenwich Village African American KIA

Researcher: Sophia Mueller, Stuyvesant '24

Meredith Sydnor (Syd) Graham was an African American artist who was involved in the Spanish Civil War, and serves as a valuable volunteer due to his copious annotated sketches depicting the posters, people and landscapes of Spain he observed while in the militia.

His father, George Warren Graham, was born in Massachusetts and his mother, Mary Virginia Sydnor, was born in Virginia, so Meredith was at least a second generation American and would have been entrenched in American culture since his birth on March 22, 1914. There are contradictions as to where Meredith grew up—his older sister is recorded to be born in Brooklyn, Kings, New York, the ALBA pamphlet “The Volunteer” also records him as a lifelong NY resident, but the ALBA website states he grew up in Ridgewood, Bergen, New Jersey. Either way, Meredith eventually ended up in New York in his late teens or early twenties. His passport sites his address as 32 Cornelia Street, which suggests Graham was heavily involved in the bohemian scene of Greenwich Village—in the 1930s, this neighborhood was the hotspot for artists like Edward Hopper and Jackson Pollock, and it’s doubtless Syd would have mingled with individuals similar to them.

Graham was a member of the Artists’ Union, a collective of working artists during the Depression that not only provided a center for artist social life, but was also involved in left-wing political movements. The Union was included in FDR’s programs such as the Public Works Projects and the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), they advocated for better work-relief, organized anti-lynching exhibitions in New York, and its members had close ties with the Communist Party of the United States of America. Judging from the crowd Graham would interact with on a day to day basis, he was most likely a true communist, which sets him apart from some other volunteers who assumed membership of the CPUSA simply to get access to Spain for the purpose of fighting fascism.

At the age of twenty-three, Graham received his passport on March 2nd, 1937, and eight days later he sailed in the direction of Spain aboard the Washington. He had missed the first wave of Americans coming over to Spain to fight, so once he arrived on April 6th, he was integrated into the Washington Battalion.

Little is known about Graham’s movement in Spain, but a semi-coherent history can be pieced together through the biography of another volunteer who was on the same ship and ended up in the same Battalion as he. Betram Bakerman, researched by Emma Buller, also departed for Washington on March 10th, joined the Washington Battalion (which became a formal battalion on April 30th) and began training on May 10th. The battalion ended up experiencing the battle of Jarama Valley, and in early July they took part in the Battle of Brunete. This battle occurred twenty-four kilometers to the west of Madrid, and though originally planned as a Republic offense, the Republic suffered a strong nationalist counterattack and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade experienced significant losses.

Meredith Sydnor Graham was killed in action during the Battle of Brunete on July 18th, 1937. He may have been a simple foot soldier, but his three preserved sketchbooks and other drawings provide a vivid retelling of not only the actual technicalities of the war, which he painstakingly details in his annotated drawings of the battle front and diagrams of the Republic's offensive positions, but also the persistence of the Spaniards’ everyday life. Women in shawls carry baskets from a market, others hoist bushels of straw over their head, men plow vineyard fields together with their horses, and there’s the occasional sketch of a well-dressed fellow reading the news on a bench. In warm shades of orange, Graham sketches his comrades sprawled in the grass and paying attention to a general, and the rolling hills of the Spanish countryside provide a picturesque backdrop to the portraits of campesinos he intersperses throughout his work.

Graham’s sketchbooks and loose papers are currently safe kept at the NYU Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) in New York City, and his drawings help humanize the Spanish civilians and his fellow soldiers involved in the “Good Fight”.


Buller, Emma. “Betram Bakerman.” NYC’s Spanish Civil War Volunteers, 2021. Bakerman.html.

Graham, Meredith Sydnor. “Meredith Sydnor (Syd) Graham Drawings,” 1937. Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, NYU Special Collections, New York City.

“Graham, Meredith Sydnor.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, August 25, 2022.

Luyten, James. “Family Tree of Meredith Sydnor Graham.” Geneanet. Accessed June 12, 2024.
Morrow, Molly. “A More Perfect Union: American Political Art of the 1930s.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art , September 22, 2023.

Stewart, Jules. “Greenwich Village: Past and Present.” New York Almanack, June 28, 2022.

“The Cultural Legacy of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” The Volunteer | Journal of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade XXVII, no. 3 (September 2005): 14.