Tonea Stewart

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Tonea Stewart
Born (1947-02-03) February 3, 1947 (age 77)
Other namesTommie Stewart
Alma mater
Years active1976–present
EmployerAlabama State University
TelevisionIn the Heat of the Night
Parent(s)Hattie Juanita and Thomas Harris

Tonea Stewart (born February 3, 1947),[1] also Tommie Stewart, is an American actress and university professor. She is the former dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts of Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama.[2]

She had a recurring role as Aunt Etta Kibby in the American television series In the Heat of the Night,[2] and is an NAACP Image Award nominee for acting in film A Time to Kill.

From the beginning of her acting career until 2019, Stewart concurrently worked as an actress and educator; she did not act full time until her retirement from teaching.[3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

Stewart was born in Greenwood, Mississippi,[5] the daughter of Hattie (née Leonard) and Thomas Harris.[1] Her father worked as an electrician and plumber, while Stewart's mother was an educator.[5] They would divorce when Stewart was 4 years old.[5] Her sister, Beverly Branson, is a singer, and the two have performed together on stage.[6]

Her original intention was to become a doctor, and she studied biology at Jackson State University. However, after acting in a school production, Stewart changed her major to theater.[5] She earned a BS degree in speech and theater at Jackson, and then studied theater at the University of California at Santa Barbara. In 1989, Stewart received a PhD in theater arts from Florida State University.[2]

Acting career[edit]

Stewart's first performance on screen was in TV movie Nightmare in Badham County (1976).[7] She appeared as Mrs. Walker in film Mississippi Burning (1988).[1] From 1991 to 1993, Stewart played Aunt Etta Kibby on In the Heat of the Night.[8] On the series, she had previously portrayed a different character, and returned under this new role as producers were impressed with her performance.[9] Stewart acted in the feature films Body Snatchers,[10] Livin' Large,[11] Mississippi Damned and Girls Trip.[4]

She has made guest appearances on television series Matlock, Walker, Texas Ranger,[12] ER and Touched by an Angel.[1] She played Gwen Hailey, the wife of Samuel L. Jackson's character, in A Time to Kill (1996).[13] Stewart received an NAACP Image Award nomination for her work in this film.[4] In Come Sunday (2018), she portrayed the mother of Pentecostal bishop Carlton Pearson.[5]

The majority of Stewart's work has been in television films.[1] She acted in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Don't Look Back: The Story of Leroy 'Satchel' Paige (portraying the mother of Satchel Paige)[14] and The Rosa Parks Story, where she appeared as Johnnie Carr.[15] In 1994, Stewart appeared in the TV movies One Christmas as Evangeline[16] and A Passion for Justice: The Hazel Brannon Smith Story as Henrietta.[17] She portrayed Memaw, the grandmother of Halle Downing, in the Oprah Winfrey Network movie First Christmas.[18]

Teaching career[edit]

Stewart began teaching in 1971,[4] educating high school students.[1] At her alma mater, Jackson State University, she taught speech to her students.[19] By 1983, Stewart was assistant professor for the dramatics and speech departments at Jackson.[20]

Starting in 1990, she was a professor at the College of Visual and Performing Arts for Alabama State University, also chairing the theater department.[4] Stewart eventually became dean before retiring in 2019 after 48 years in education.[4] One of her students was Stephen Boss.[21]

In 2020, Stewart was appointed by Alabama state governor Kay Ivey to represent the fifth district of the Alabama State Board of Education.[22]

Personal life[edit]

She is married to Allen Stewart, with whom she has three children.[1] One of her grandchildren is Jennifer Dallas.



Guest Starring Roles

Starring Roles

  • In the Heat of the Night (1988) as Aunt Etta (Virgil's widowed maternal aunt Etta Kibbee. She resides with Virgil and Althea Tibbs and is caretaker of their twins, William Calvin and Sarah Ruth. (Seasons 4–7) Prior to her role as Kibbee, Stewart also appeared on the Season 2 episode "Prisoners" as Ms. Gray, the mother of slain prison victim, Eric Gray.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g McCann, Bob (October 30, 2009). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland & Company. p. 314. ISBN 9780786458042.
  2. ^ a b c Catherine Bullock (February 12, 2016). ASU Dean honored with Mississippi Governor’s Arts Award. Montgomery Advertiser. Accessed January 2018.
  3. ^ Hane, Bobb (August 17, 2007). "District's opening summit speaker calls to mind the strength, wisdom of our grandmothers, urges teachers to find it". The Herald Independent. p. 3.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Barker, Cyril Josh (June 13, 2019). "Longtime HBCU theater professor retires". The Amsterdam News. Retrieved October 27, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d e "JSU alum, actor Tonea Stewart talks growing up in 'The Sip' and role in new Netflix biopic". Jackson State University. April 17, 2018. Retrieved October 27, 2022.
  6. ^ Daniel, Clifton (December 15, 1994). "2 sisters stage 'Four Women'". Star-News. p. D1.
  7. ^ "'Informance' to feature noted actress Stewart". Times Daily. February 19, 1993. p. 8B.
  8. ^ Coakley, Deirdre (January 31, 1992). "Black heritage tribute". Gadsden Times. p. C1.
  9. ^ Franks, Randall (January 1, 2003). "'Aunt Etta' still sharing her wisdom". Calhoun Times. p. 4A.
  10. ^ Rauch Klotman, Phyllis; Gibson, Gloria J. (1997). Frame by Frame II: A Filmography of the African American Image, 1978-1994. Indiana University Press. p. 63. ISBN 9780253211200.
  11. ^ Willis, John (May 1993). Screen World 1992. Applause Theatre & Cinema Book Publishers. p. 168. ISBN 9781557831354.
  12. ^ "Stewart is making it on her own terms". Indianapolis Recorder. July 12, 1997. p. B1.
  13. ^ Gaul, Lou (July 26, 1996). "'A Time to Kill' stirs emotions, forces thought". The Beaver County Times. p. 6.
  14. ^ Erickson, Hal (March 23, 2016). The Baseball Filmography, 1915 Through 2001 (2nd ed.). McFarland & Company. p. 146. ISBN 9781476607856.
  15. ^ Cobb, Mark Hughes (March 12, 2002). "Actress, educator to perform for fund-raiser". The Tuscaloosa News. p. D1.
  16. ^ Britton, Andrew (2003). Katharine Hepburn: Star as Feminist. Columbia University Press. p. 249. ISBN 9780231132770.
  17. ^ Marill, Alvin H. (2005). Movies Made for Television, 1964-2004: 1990-1999. Scarecrow Press. p. 390.
  18. ^ Petski, Denise (November 10, 2020). "OWN Sets Three Holiday Movies Starring Vivica A. Fox, Jackée Harry, Lamman Rucker, Meagan Holder, Idara Victor, Tonea Stewart". Deadline. Retrieved October 27, 2022.
  19. ^ Flucker, Turry; Savage, Phoenix (2008). African Americans of Jackson. Arcadia Publishing. p. 114. ISBN 9780738553283.
  20. ^ "Actress To Perform In Albany". The Albany Herald. April 3, 1983. p. 3A.
  21. ^ Hines, Ree (July 5, 2022). "Hoda Kotb Surprises tWitch With Former Theater Coach". Yahoo!. Retrieved October 27, 2022.
  22. ^ "Governor Ivey Appoints Dr. Tommie Stewart to State Board of Education". Governor of Alabama. January 7, 2020. Retrieved October 27, 2022.