While best known to the world as a talented actress appearing in small and large screen productions, like the TV show In the Heat of the Night and the films Mississippi Burning and A Time to Kill, Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart is best known in the academic community for her role in developing the next generation of film and stage performers and production artists in her capacity as a professor and Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Alabama State University.
Born on February 3, 1947 in Greenwood, Mississippi, Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart attended Jackson State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Speech and Theatre. She subsequently attended the University of California at Santa Barbara, achieving a master’s in Theatre Arts.
She went on to teach at her alma mater, Jackson State University, educating students in speech and theatre for two decades. Moving on from Jackson State to Alabama State University, Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart first served as the chair of the Theatre Arts Department before assuming her current role as Dean.
In1989, Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart earned her Ph.D. in Theatre Arts, and also became the first African American woman to achieve a doctoral degree from the Florida State University School of Theatre Arts, only one among her notable achievements. In addition to her own performance credits, she has also groomed students for successful careers as performers, directors, producers and set designers.
Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart’s own accomplishments include stage, radio, television and silver screen productions. Her most critically acclaimed credits include the previously mentioned television and film performances, as well as her role as Johnny Carr in the television film, The Rosa Parks Story, and the independent film Mississippi Damned. She also received a New York World Fest Gold Medal Award for her narration of the critically heralded Public Radio International program “Remembering Slavery” in 1999.
Thanks in part to the mentorship of Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart, many of Alabama’s theatre alumni have also achieved notable roles in the performing arts, including graduates like comedian and actor Steven Daniel, actress Tangi Miller, and actress, motivational speaker, and educator Kefla Hare, to name just a few.
Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart has been active in the promotion of African American academic and other accomplishments throughout her career, teaching at two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and holding lifetime membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
She has been recognized for her contributions on many occasions throughout her career. Among her most notable recognitions is her nomination for an NAACP Image Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role in A Time to Kill in 1997, and her induction into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2011, Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart was also recognized as a Lineage Living Legend by Alabama State University for her service as an educator, academic, actress and orator.
Dr. Tommie Tonea Stewart has been active in historical documentaries, the depiction of historical events through her stage and screen performances, and has additionally directed museum exhibitions at major venues like the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
Photo Credit: Alabama State University