The American Baptist was established in 1879, succeeding the Baptist Herald as the official newspaper of the General Association of Kentucky Baptists. The Herald's founding editor, Rev. George W. Dupee, a former slave and leader of the General Association of Colored Baptists, sold the Paducah-based publication to William H. Steward, then-secretary of the Association, and that same year the Baptist was established at Steward's offices in Louisville.

Steward made significant contributions to the advancement of African-Americans. Three years before establishing the Baptist, he became Louisville's first African-American postman. The progressive editor was a vocal opponent of racial segregation and in 1914 helped found the Louisville chapter of the NAACP. On a national level, Steward served as president of the Afro-American Press Association. After over 50 years of service to the Baptist, Steward passed away in 1935.

Many influential African-Americans worked alongside Steward to produce the Baptist. One such man was Kentuckian William James Simmons, a leader in unifying African-American Baptists. Simmons encouraged Baptists to organize nationally in one April 1886 edition of the Baptist, and by August the American National Baptist Convention was formed with Simmons as its president. The Convention would later join other organizations to form the National Baptist Convention of the U.S.A., the second largest Baptist organization in the world. With Simmons at the helm of both the Convention and the Baptist, the paper was for some time the official organ of the Convention.

Like Steward, Simmons was a very influential leader in the African-American community, particularly in the area of education. State University, formerly the Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute, in Louisville, flourished under his leadership. With Simmons as president, the Louisville school expanded to offer elementary, secondary, medicine, and law programs. At its time, the university was the only Kentucky institution of higher education controlled and established by African-Americans.

The Baptist's content focused on education and religion. The paper reported on the news of various African-American or Baptist schools such as State University, often referred to as "our university". Baptist Bible schools, also known as New Era Institutes, which trained ministers, reported their work in Kentucky cities such as Paducah, Louisville, and Bowling Green.

The American Baptist is still in print today in Louisville, Kentucky.