Known best for her starring role as Aunt Etta on the NBC and CBS series In the Heat of the Night, Stewart is also notable for her guest spots on Matlock, Memphis Beat, and Walker, Texas Ranger.
She made her screen acting debut in the 1976 made-for-TV movie Nightmare in Badham County.
Apart from her work as an actress, she earned a doctorate from Florida State University and taught in the performing arts departments at Jackson State University and Alabama State University.
The daughter of Thomas and Hattie Harris, she spent her youth in Greenwood, Mississippi. She later married Allen Stewart and raised daughters named Jannice and Alesha and sons named Allen Jr. and Thomas.
She and Ashley Judd were both in the cast of the 1996 film A Time to Kill.